HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2016-17

Gareth Baber confident he can ‘push Fiji rugby forward’ as he takes over from mastermind Ben Ryan

The outgoing Hong Kong coach is ready to mould his methods around the super talent that the reigning Olympic gold medallists possess

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 October, 2016, 6:04pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 October, 2016, 10:41am

Gareth Baber knows he has huge shoes to fill in taking over from Ben Ryan as coach of a Fiji side who are reigning Olympic and HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series champions.

On top of their on-field success, the islanders path to gold in Rio captured the imagination of sports fans across the globe and Baber is taking the reins of arguably the world’s most unique rugby side.

Packed with world-class players who are as enigmatic as they are brilliant, keeping the side at the levels they have reached in the past 12 months will be no mean feat.

“What Ben has created, on the back of obviously what is one of the most talented rugby production lines in the world, I am going to try and emulate what happened there and push Fiji rugby forward,” Baber said.

“I’m just over the moon that I get this opportunity to challenge myself and see exactly what we can do with Fiji rugby moving forward.”

Officially appointed on Thursday, Baber knew within 24 hours of the end of the interview process that he had the job and will assume the role in early January, joining the team in time for the third round of the world series in Wellington.

Baber feels he has the tools to make the shift from a Hong Kong side on the way up to a Fiji side already admired throughout the rugby world.

“I’m not aware of the make-up of the players, how they view their own learning and how they want to develop,” he said.

“That’s what makes me tick as an individual, seeing the potential of an individual and working out how I can create something in them that makes them realise that.

“That talent is a given and I don’t have to go chasing that and that is going to test me as a technical, tactical and mental coach in combining all of those elements to produce the best individual that I can.

As for how he plans to maintain the standards set by outgoing mastermind Ryan, Baber is well aware he will have to give a little to fit in with the “Fiji way”.

“I am going to have to find out exactly how I can mould my methods around the super talent,” he said.

“Lets not forget the culture and way of playing the game which is beyond me in terms of the history of Fiji rugby and will be in Fiji rugby for years to come.

“I’m looking forward to working with all of them, but the ones I am most looking forward to seeing are the 17, 18-year-olds that are playing and looking like the next generation of Fijian rugby players that are going to push these [current] guys.

“That’s where I get the gains, I have got to create a system and a programme in which people are desperate to get into and when they do get into it, it develops them into what they need to be.”

Former Wales sevens captain Jevon Groves, who was recently appointed as an assistant, will act as interim coach while the Hong Kong Rugby Union find a permanent replacement.

Baber is determined to ensure Groves is “across everything that needs to be done for the group”.

Hong Kong coach Gareth Baber to replace Ben Ryan as coach of Fiji in the most sought-after job in rugby sevens

The Welshman is expecting an emotional return to Hong Kong for the sevens in April and may even find himself coaching against his old side in Singapore the following week.

“To come back to Hong Kong with Fiji and play will be phenomenal,” he said.

“We have made great strides in the last three years and it was always my dream of getting Hong Kong promoted to the world series.

“I’m on the other end of a phone for Jevon and I just want to see him having as much support as possible.

Former Wales sevens captain Jevon Groves settling in as Gareth Baber’s Hong Kong assistant

“The players believe in him, they recognise his qualities as a coach and as a man and I think we are not too far away from having a top quality coach and having a top quality team hopefully representing Hong Kong on the world series pretty soon.”