‘We realise our responsibility’, says sevens coach Gareth Baber as Fiji recovers from killer cyclone
Team gunning for a record fourth straight win – and an 18th title overall – at this weekend’s Hong Kong Sevens
Gareth Baber and his record-chasing Fijian team will be looking to lift the spirits of their nation at this weekend’s Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens as the island continues to deal with the destruction and the deaths caused by Cyclone Josie.
Reports from Fiji say at least four lives were lost and thousands of homes were either washed away or flooded when the cyclone hit at high tide last weekend.
“With the flooding and the cyclone, the players realise exactly what their responsibility is,” said Baber, whose squad arrived last Thursday, before the storm hit.
“We all know how much this tournament means to the players and to the people back home. All these players want to do is win it, for themselves and to all those who follow everything they do.
“It lives in their memories because of the greats like Waisale Serevi and the teams that came here and made sevens so great, all around the world.”
The Fijians are gunning for a record fourth straight win – and an 18th title overall – at the game’s marquee event and Hong Kong has long been considered the ultimate goal for any aspiring islander when it comes to rugby.
“Hong Kong is as important to these players as the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games,” said Baber.
Fijihave brought an extended 16-man squad as they look to go back-to-back, with the Commonwealth Games looming next week on Australia’s Gold Coast.
Some nations have opted to send separate squads to both events – HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series leaders South Africa and 11-time winners New Zealand, in particular.
Baber said they were under no illusion about the challenge that lay ahead.
“I am sure the other teams down in Australia are licking their lips thinking ‘right, let’s see how many injuries they can pick up’, but that’s always a risk. But there’s also something about creating momentum and riding momentum and that’s what we’re here to do.
“We’ve had a great preparation, first at the Sports Institute and through a run-out with Hong Kong,” said Baber. “It was a quieter environment with less distractions and we could focus totally on what we’re doing.”
Victory at the World Series’ last stop in Vancouver – 29-7 over Kenya – moved Fiji’s campaign into high gear and with three legs to come following the weekend’s action at Hong Kong Stadium, Fiji (101) can wrest control from the South Africans (109 points).
“Obviously the way that the series is set up there is pressure on at each tournament and we know that the series is huge for Fiji and so are the Commonwealth Games,” said Baber.
“We’re trying to go back-to-back and no team has done that this season. We have a mix that we feel is right but there’s no doubt it will be a big challenge.
“Over the past few tournaments we’ve started to find the shape and rhythm we need and I want to see that continue.”
The South Africans have a squad formed out of their development set-up and with usual coach Neil Powell standing by his phone.
“It’s a bit like giving your kids to someone for a holiday,” said stand-in coach Marius Schoeman. “He’s phoning me every day. But we’ve been playing and coaching together for a long time and there’s a lot of trust between us.”
The chance is there for young players to play their way into long-term reckoning.
“We’ve planned what we are doing here since last year,” said Schoeman. “Irrespective of the points or the standings, we would have done this. The key to this sport is consistency and the only way you’ll get that is to give these young players some game time.
“At some stage you have to put trust in the young players, and that’s what we’re doings. I keep saying it’s all about the opportunity. Talent won’t be a problem. If they overcome their nerves, our guys will really do well.”