Level of untapped sevens talent in Fiji ‘akin to football in Brazil in the 1980s’, warns former Hong Kong coach Gareth Baber
The country’s player depth is on full display at the Coral Coast Sevens, where Hong Kong win one of three matches on Saturday
Watching on from the sideline of the Coral Coast Sevens in his role as coach of Fiji, Gareth Baber has likened the depth of talent in the country to soccer in Brazil in the 1980s.
The former Hong Kong coach is a year into his post with the sevens giants and warned there is a long way to go until Fiji’s best players are consistently identified.
“The Fiji Rugby Union and the sevens programme is trying to put steps in place to develop that. That’s part of the process and development of rugby in Fiji,” he said.
“We are heavily reliant on people who are involved in teams around the country and people that you would say are scouts.
“It would be probably akin to football in Brazil in the 1980s, a little bit probably to NBA basketball and inner city basketball courts in America.
“It’s very raw talent that you have. It doesn’t naturally translate but you take that raw talent and it can be given a discipline and a way to play that can operate at international level.”
It’s not a bad problem to have and it hasn’t yet impacted the long-running success of Fiji, who won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The talent on display on the Coral Coast – where Hong Kong fell in the shield final – gave a first-hand look at the riches on offer.
“I still get phone calls from members of they public saying ‘have you thought about this guy and this guy’,” Baber said.
“They see it as well and there is a very educated rugby public in Fiji, they are very proud of their sevens culture.”
Hong Kong’s men broke through for their first win of the tournament on Saturday, knocking off Lomavata Blues 19-17 in the shield semi-final after earlier losing to Stars USA 19-14.
It was a Kane Boucaut double that propelled Hong Kong home over the Blues, before they went down to Outrigger 19-12 in the shield final despite another try for Boucaut and one for Salom Yiu Kam-shing.
Despite winning only one of their six matches, coach Paul John is confident the tournament will prove the perfect launch pad for the HSBC Sevens World Series qualifying tournament at April’s Hong Kong Sevens.
“It might look to people that don’t understand it like we have had a bad weekend, but I think we’ve had a very good weekend,” John said.
“The boys have come over here and played in a fantastic environment, there are world-class sevens players in probably 12 of the 16 teams.
“There is a lot of Fijian internationals out there and the boys wouldn’t have played a higher standard of sevens anywhere.”