HK Rugby Sevens 2015

Former Fiji captain Pio Tuwai back in side as Ben Ryan makes four changes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 March, 2015, 9:38pm
UPDATED : Monday, 23 March, 2015, 4:16pm

Fiji have made four changes to the winning combination that won the last leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series in Las Vegas by including former captain Pio Tuwai, who was one of many players poached by the Sri Lanka Army last year.

It will be an emotional return for Tuwai, 31, who played at last year's Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens after being urged to go by his ailing wife Irinieta Sadria. A few weeks after returning from Hong Kong, his wife passed away.

I’m proud to be back playing for Fiji and I thank everyone for their support
Pio Tuwai

"I know I will miss my wife for this year's tournament. Last year although she was ill she urged me to go and play in Hong Kong. She was there to support me. I'm proud to be back playing for Fiji and I thank everyone for their support," Tuwai told Fiji media after head coach Ben Ryan kept faith with him.

Ex-England sevens coach Ryan has taken an audacious approach in changing the winning combination who crushed New Zealand 35-19 in the Cup final in Las Vegas last month. The return of the experienced Tuwai from Sri Lanka - Tuwai and two other Fijians had their contracts with the Sri Lanka Army ended prematurely after the island nation's rugby-loving president Mahinda Rajapaksa lost elections in January - was too juicy a temptation for Ryan to ignore.

Ryan said the players were picked on form and would be "an incredibly hard side to play against and beat". Fiji, who arrive in Hong Kong on Monday night, lie third in the standings with 86 points, trailing South Africa (93) and New Zealand (88). The top four teams in the World Series at the end of the season qualify for the Rio Olympics next summer."It's easy to go with the winning side again. It gives a loud and clear message that with the team even if we are winning, your position is not granted," Ryan said. "You have to keep working hard, put in the effort and these boys are on form."

Apart from Tuwai, the other changes are Apisai Domolailai, Amenomi Nasilasila and Josaia Wini, who is the only debutant in the 12-man squad. The team are led by veteran Osea Kolinisau.

The return of Tuwai would have been greeted with huge relief by Ryan, who has had to grapple with poaching by other countries. Traditionally Fijians have left to play in New Zealand and Australia, Japan and France. But in recent years, Sri Lanka has been a destination, with clubs offering lucrative contracts.

"Our players get poached regularly. We lost many to rugby league in France and other countries. Not having finances to keep them at home and run the programme is tough. It is a battle to try to keep them and we are fighting hard," said Ryan. Fiji have won two titles this season - the Gold Coast and Las Vegas.

"Despite all these issues, I'm pleased with this season.

"We lost five of our regular starters before the season commenced so to click so quickly and win Gold Coast was great. Although in third place, we have won more games than any other team and lost the least."

Fiji are pooled with Canada, Samoa and Belgium.