Fiji looking to buck trends and win S'pore 7s

The Fiji Sevens team perform the Cibi, a traditional Fiji war dance, at Changi Airport. The Sevens World Series defending champions are hoping to triumph in the Singapore leg which is making its return to the sevens calendar after 10 years.
The Fiji Sevens team perform the Cibi, a traditional Fiji war dance, at Changi Airport. The Sevens World Series defending champions are hoping to triumph in the Singapore leg which is making its return to the sevens calendar after 10 years.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Defending champions Fiji are in top form coming into the Singapore leg of the HSBC Sevens World Series. They sit atop the 19-team table, having won in Dubai, Las Vegas, and the prestigious Hong Kong leg last week.

However, history is not on their side. Since the inception of the World Sevens series in 1999, only twice has the winner of the Hong Kong tournament gone on to win the following leg. Both times, it was the New Zealand All Blacks, who triumphed in Adelaide (2011) and Glasgow (2014).

This statistic weighs heavily on the mind of Fiji Sevens coach Ben Ryan.

"Hong Kong is so draining, so winning Singapore back-to-back is going to be the biggest challenge we've had all season," he said.

To make matters more complicated, a few of the Flying Fijians' key players will be sitting the Singapore tournament out.

One of them is Savenaca Rawaca, Fiji's highest scorer with 35 tries, who has a hamstring injury.

"His injury isn't serious, but we just wanted to rest him. He's played a lot of rugby and we thought it would be best if he went home to recover," said Ryan.

Other players who will not be at the National Stadium this weekend are Isake Katonibau and Pio Tuwai.

"Savenaca is one of the best players in world sevens at the moment, so it's a big loss. Pio is probably the best offloader in sevens, and Isake is our enforcer," said Ryan.

There will be five new players in Singapore: Emosi Mulevoro, Alifereti Veitokani, Nemani Nagusa, Sevuloni Mocenacagi and Josua Vici. All five have played in previous Sevens legs, but none of them in Hong Kong.

The biggest challenge the team faces this week is integrating the new players into the squad.

"We only have two training sessions on the (National Stadium) field, so the new boys are going to have to quickly get on the same page as the rest of the team," he said.

The English tactician was speaking on the sidelines of the launch of the Changi Rugby Sevens exhibition, which runs until the end of the month at Changi Airport.

Despite the challenges, Ryan is confident that the team can win. At the last Singapore Sevens hosted a decade ago, Fiji were the winners.

"We're the best team on the circuit when we play at our best, and that is reflected in our results and statistics," said coach Ryan. But if we slip up, or if some of the new boys don't get to the level that's expected, then we won't win."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2016, with the headline 'Fiji looking to buck trends and win S'pore 7s'. Print Edition | Subscribe