World sevens champions Fiji look for Olympic boost as they kick off title defence
New season starts this weekend in Dubai, with the Pacific islanders desperate for Olympic gold
Fiji begin the defence of their World Sevens title in Dubai on Friday with eyes on a repeat victory in 2016 as well as giving their country an historic first Olympic medal.
Rugby Sevens makes its Olympics debut in Rio in August where the inventive, muscular and fleet-footed Fijians will be amongst the hot favourites for the gold.
“It's really an exciting season when you have the Olympics in the background,” said Fiji captain Osea Kolinisau, conscious of the fact that his country has never won a medal at the Olympics.
Last season, Fiji, coached by Englishman Ben Ryan, finished 10 points ahead of South Africa.
They won four rounds of the global series, including Hong Kong, making sure of their place in the Olympics in the process.
In Dubai, the first of 10 rounds which concludes in London in May, Fiji have been drawn in Pool A along with Argentina, Canada and Japan.
“When you are defending champions, there is always pressure,” 30-year-old Kolinisau said.
“Everybody tries to knock you off your pedestal. Training has been hard in the build up to Dubai as we know it's always hard to defend a title.
“We have beefed up a lot of our training and most players have put on a bit of weight. We know that a lot of teams are gunning for us and for the series.”
Fiji certainly raised the standards in their title-winning season – they scored more tries on average than any other team at 4.5 tries per match, or one every 44 seconds of possession.
also managed to win the 2014/2015 crown without losing a single match in pool play.
Pool B in the UAE is made up of defending Dubai champions South Africa, Scotland, Samoa and Russia.
New Zealand are in Pool C alongside the United States, France and Portugal while England, Wales, Australia and Kenya will fight out Pool D.
South Africa have named 35-cap Springbok Francois Hougaard and Juan de Jongh for the first two legs in Dubai and home soil in Cape Town next week.
Western Province centre and captain De Jongh is back in the Sevens squad for the first time in seven years.
The All Blacks were third overall last time out and long-serving coach Gordon Tietjens has selected 14 players with Waikato Chiefs half-back Augustine Pulu in line for his debut.
The women's sevens tournament also takes place at the weekend where New Zealand are the defending champions.
New Zealand coach Sean Horan said he and his backroom staff will be keen to keep thoughts of Rio under tight wraps.
“It is at the back of the minds though and the players know where it is going, but for us as management it is about the bigger picture,” said Horan.