Waisale Serevi backs Fiji Sevens coach Gareth Baber and the Welshman can thank Hong Kong
Baber remains in favour despite a 2017-18 season that got away but fans and media already have one eye on Tokyo 2020
While he scratches his head in disbelief about a season that got away, Fiji coach Gareth Baber can rest easy knowing he’s got the support of arguably the country’s most influential man, and even the once-baying Fijian media.
Although Baber’s side fell short in the Commonwealth Games, the HSBC Sevens World Series and the Rugby World Cup Sevens, “King of Sevens” Waisale Serevi has no doubt the former Hong Kong boss is the man to lead the team forward.
“Personally, he is a good guy. He has his own game plan. He still has two more World Series and the 2020 Olympics in Japan to prove himself. I want to wish him well on what he’s doing,” Serevi told the Fiji Times this week.
But as he basks in the warmth that must come with being endorsed by the doyen himself, Baber will perhaps take even greater pleasure from the fact that even the Fijian media are behind him.
After being so quick to apply the clamps after the Welshman failed to notch a victory in his first four World Series legs in charge of the team, there has been no such doom and gloom in the wake of Fiji’s World Cup failure.
“It’s best that we still put our faith in Gareth Baber to remain as head coach,” the Fiji Sun assured its readers recently. “Baber has done well as a sevens coach, but the best is yet to be seen. It will come if only we are patient with him.”
It’s a far cry from the treatment that prompted ex-skipper Osea Kolinisau to go into bat for Baber before last year’s HSBC/Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Sevens: “We are telling people back home to give Gareth time”.
And it serves as another reminder that, despite the lure of the other showpiece sevens events, the Hong Kong Sevens has lost none of its lustre in the eyes of Fijians.
Victory here in 2017 was Baber’s first success as Fiji coach and he backed that up with another victory this year.
Just as well, one thinks – there is no way Baber would be receiving so much support if not for those two victories. Heck, he may have been out of a job long ago.
So as he whiles away his long wait for redemption after a 2017-18 season that got away, Baber will no doubt be casting his mind to the role Hong Kong has played in his coaching rise.
His work with Hong Kong’s sevens team was enough to convince the Fijian Rugby Union he was the right man to take over from Ben Ryan in perhaps the most sought after coaching job in all of sevens.
After throwing everything into trying to win Hong Kong a World Series berth that seems destined to elude them, seemingly in the blink of an eye Baber found himself on top of the sevens world as coach of a victorious Fiji team at the spiritual home of sevens.
Perhaps that was the rugby gods’ way of rewarding the Welshman after continued disappointment in the qualifying competition.
One way or another, Tokyo 2020 is looming ever closer and the time will come when even ruling Hong Kong will not be enough to keep Fiji happy.
They’ve had a taste of Olympic glory and only gold in 2020 will be accepted. Among it’s gushing support for Baber, the Sun made it clear they – and the rest of Fiji’s media and fans – will only be this accommodating for so long.
“With our Olympic Games gold medal defence in Tokyo only two years away, it’s important that we not press the panic button, but plan our way through,” it declared.
Commonwealth Games and World Cup champions New Zealand proved this season that the World Series can be used as the perfect platform for higher honours.
While eventual victors South Africa and Fiji duked it out at the top of the table, the Kiwis ticked along behind and picked off the big ones.
It’s hard to see Fiji taking that approach – they are expected to win every time they play and the fans live very much in the moment.
But while winning the Hong Kong Sevens has kept the masses happy thus far, even that won’t be enough if Baber can’t finally deliver in one of the major tournaments come Tokyo.
The good news for Baber? “The best is yet to be seen.”