Rugby World Cup Sevens: Fiji ‘Dream Team’ must deliver in San Francisco or 2018 will be wasted
After choking in the World Series and falling in the final of the Commonwealth Games, Gareth Baber’s side have one last chance for silverware
Not a bad year’s work in anyone’s book.
Except, maybe, the mighty Fijians, who could finish what has been a superb season without a top gong if they fall short at this weekend’s Rugby World Cup Sevens in San Francisco.
Missing out at the Commonwealth Games was one thing – it came in the middle of a heavy schedule and just days after their win in Hong Kong – but giving up the World Series title after it was theirs for the taking must burn.
Now, with what some are saying could be the best sevens squad ever assembled at their disposal, Fiji must deliver when it counts or risk consigning what loomed as an all-conquering 2018 to the scrap heap.
Team focus #RWC7s: @fijirugby
First up, the men's team:
Head coach: Gareth Baber
Captain: Jerry Tuwai
Nickname: Flying Fijians
RWC Sevens record:
1993 – SFs
1997 – Champions
2001 – SFs
2005 – Champions
2009 – QFs
2013 – Bronze medallists
2018 seeding: 2 pic.twitter.com/H4jCM5L6Q1
— Rugby World Cup Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) July 14, 2018
Fiji boss Gareth Baber has added some serious firepower to the team that fell short in the Commonwealth Games, with Toulon star Josua Tuisova, Bordeaux flier Semi Radradra and Racing 92 powerhouse Leone Nakarawa all selected in what is being labelled the “Dream Team”.
Baber is in an enviable position. Being able to add those names to a side that went within a whisker of winning both the World Series and the Commonwealth Games – and at one point won four World Series legs on the trot – is bordering on ridiculous.
But on the flip side, the expectation that comes with the “Dream Team” tag means Fiji cannot afford to slip up again.
The pressure is well and truly on and Baber will be desperate to collect his first major trophy as coach of Fiji, with their last big success coming under Ben Ryan at the Rio Olympics.
That’s not to discount Baber’s two victories in Hong Kong – many in Fiji consider that second only to the Olympics – but Fiji also need to start succeeding in those overall competitions again.
There are plenty of Fijians that believe the fact their side won five out of 10 World Series legs means they were the best regardless of the final standings, but another slip up in San Francisco could raise questions about Fiji’s ability to stand up when it comes to the crunch.
Perhaps in Hong Kong we are lulled into a false sense of security because of the level Fiji go to when they play here, but they are obviously the team to beat in the World Cup.
It is, however, worth noting that this very scribe backed them in to win both the Commonwealth Games and the World Series, so perhaps Baber would rather I keep my trap shut.
TIME LAPSE: Incredible transformation of @ATTPark from baseball to rugby.
The action kicks off tomorrow at 1000hrs San Francisco time and last remaining one day tickets are available here: https://t.co/grko0ZyEj4 pic.twitter.com/tppRL4of02
— Rugby World Cup Sevens (@WorldRugby7s) July 19, 2018
That being said, Fiji do play well in the United States, with two wins and a second in the past four iterations of the Las Vegas Sevens.
They are all but assured of smooth passage to the quarter-finals on the back of a bye first up and a round of 16 clash with Japan or Uruguay, ensuring they should be in tip-top shape come the second day.
‘King of Sevens’ Waisale Serevi even said “I believe Fiji are a 98 per cent chance of winning” the World Cup.
“If you win the World Cup – in Sevens or 15s – you have done something great for your country,” added the little master.
So if there are fans in Fiji preparing to hang their hat on their side’s four Hong Kong Sevens wins in a row should they fail in San Francisco, forget it.
Fiji wants this World Cup and, if they are to maintain the aura that surrounds one of the globe’s most phenomenal sports teams, they need it.