HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series 2016-17

Hong Kong coach Gareth Baber to replace Ben Ryan as coach of Fiji in the most sought-after job in rugby sevens

The Welshman will stay in the city until the beginning of January and continue to work as normal before assuming his role with the reigning Olympic champions

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 October, 2016, 9:07am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 October, 2016, 2:01am

Hong Kong’s Gareth Baber will take over from Ben Ryan as head coach of the all-conquering Fiji, landing the most sought-after job in world rugby sevens.

Baber will begin his four-year contract with the reigning Olympic and HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series champions at the beginning of January.

His contract will see him take the islanders through to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 and the Welshman is eager to test himself at the next level.

He paid special tribute to Dai Rees, general manager of performance rugby at the HKRU for paving the way.

“I would like to express my personal thanks to Dai, for his support during my time in Hong Kong.

“Dai’s drive, ambition and vision for rugby in Hong Kong has helped lead us to the successes we have had in Hong Kong and that in turn helped create this opportunity in Fiji.”

And in a statement released by the HKRU, Baber added that the opportunity was too big to turn down.

“As a coach, this is an incredible opportunity to work with the present world and Olympic champions,” he said.

“Coaches, like players, need to constantly challenge themselves. I want to continuously strengthen my knowledge of the game and the competition level that Fiji operates at will provide that opportunity.”

The appointment shocked sevens fans in Hong Kong, Fiji and beyond. It is understood that Ryan had recommended to Fiji that his strength and conditioning coach, Naca Cawanibuka, be promoted to the top job.

Fiji Rugby Union chairman Francis Kean said the appointment has been “much-anticipated” in Fiji – where sevens is the national sport.

It was with a heavy heart that Baber made the decision to leave Hong Kong and he is already looking forward to the opportunity to return each year.

Q&A: Ben Ryan on life after becoming an Olympic legend – and Fijian chief – as coach of the island’s gold-medal rugby team

“My time in Hong Kong has been amongst the most rewarding in my career and I thank the union and the community for their support and wish the HKRU the greatest success across every level of the game,” Baber said.

“I have tremendous affection for Hong Kong and Hong Kong rugby and if there is one positive to my leaving it is the opportunity to work with Fiji Rugby, who have such a special relationship with the city, and the chance to return every year during the Hong Kong Sevens.”

Former Wales sevens player Jevon Groves, who was recently appointed Baber’s assistant, will assume coaching duties in the interim while the HKRU searches for Baber’s replacement.

The loss of Baber comes at an inopportune time for Hong Kong as they begin preparations to go one better in the world series qualifiers in April after going down to Japan in this year’s final.

New Hong Kong coach Gareth Baber determined to take team to the next level

However, Baber is confident it will business as usual for the next three months and beyond.

“I am confident that under assistant coach Jevon Groves the transition for the men’s sevens squad will be a smooth one and that Hong Kong will not lose a step in preparing for what could be a pivotal year for Hong Kong’s sevens aspirations,” Baber said.

Rees, though disappointed, said the appointment reflected well on the union: “It is a big loss for Hong Kong, but also a great opportunity for Gareth and one that is well deserved,” he said.

“The appointment is a testament to both the HKRU and Gareth, and positively reflects the quality of the HKRU’s world-class coaching resources, with Fiji obviously recognising Gareth’s qualities both as a coach and as a man.

“It is a blow, but also a positive recognition of what we are achieving in Hong Kong and will help further shine a spotlight on the HKRU globally.”