Ben Ryan Column – My World



Can’t start without saying a huge congratulations to everyone involved in the team winning the 2018/19 HSBC World Sevens Series. The team was by far the best on the circuit and it would have been a travesty if they had lost that final match against the USA in Paris, having beaten them so many times this season as well as won as many individual titles as they have. 

Not sure who decides who the end of season Coach of the Year award goes to but Gareth certainly deserved that with the Fiji team’s consistent performance this year. USA had a brilliant season but with only one tournament win and one of the most experienced teams on the circuit, it was a stretch to award that to Mike Friday.

Bottom line though is, it’s just a trophy that hasn’t been won but decided by a few people so I’m sure Gareth won’t be losing sleep over it! As I can testify, it’s a tough job being Fiji 7s coach and back on the island, the microscope is firmly on you and those around you so it’s great to see the team back on top. 

All eyes are now looking towards Tokyo 2020. For Fiji, it all looks on track. Qualified as first seeds, government funding guaranteed early which makes a huge difference to planning and a pretty settle squad in place. Everything looks great and this coming season I’m sure the goal will be to retain the series title whilst trying out some players with potential for the Olympics. That’s what I did when we were in a similar situation. 

We decided to target the three day tournaments (Vegas and HK) as Rio would also be that duration and try out some pre and post match stuff we would do in Rio. Winning both those in Olympic year gave us a lot of confidence that the plans we had in place were going to work.

We also tried various players out. Kuantani and Viriviri came back to play a bit and we introduced back Nakarawa, Tuisova and Nayacalevu amongst others too. It meant that we would have some inconsistencies and the cup final loss in Paris 2016 is a good example of that, but it also meant it gave me a chance to see who would then make the Olympic training squad.

Lots of planning will be going on in the background too. I was also fortunate that four years earlier, I had been at the London Olympics as a spectator watching sports but also crucially as an observer, having a taste of the village etc. Back then, it was likely I’d be the GB coach for Rio so I was given a few opportunities like that to help me gain some experience. On top of some involvement with the England XV test side, commonwealth games and RWC 7’s, I was well aware of the possible distractions and pressures Rio might bring.

Gareth has been lucky to have been to a commonwealth games and a RWC 7s with Fiji as a strong favourite and the pressures that brings, so he will have learnt a lot from both those events without a doubt. He will also have William and Naca in the management group that has been to an Olympic Games. That’s a big advantage.

One issue they will need to resolve is the current men’s management team is pretty big and I doubt they will get enough accreditation’s for them all to go to the Olympics. You don’t want to have a big staff all season and then before the biggest tournament have to slim it down. That could cause some problems so with plenty of time ahead – it’s something they will need to think of and find a solution. Compared to the other teams though, Fiji is in the box seat. 

USA have been great but with just 2 cup wins in the last 30 tournaments and a poor display as hosts of the 7s RWC in San Francisco – they will have to improve again next season. I really enjoyed their season and it was great for the game that they did well. It’s a very experienced squad with some world class players and a fantastic management group but it’s also one that will have some players used at the RWC in Japan later this year.

NZ in third place haven’t quite fired this year. They obviously came good when it mattered at the World Cup and commonwealth games but they have lacked some X factor in attack and they will need to add to their current squad if they are going to be gold medal contenders next year.

SA are slightly different. They have had injury but also loss of players to super rugby and it’s taken them time to get back to winning ways. The second half of the season was much better for them so I can see them being Fiji’s biggest threat next year.

Behind them some teams underperformed. Australia now have to go to Oceania qualification and beat a Samoan side that have played very well this year. I think they might sneak it but either way it’s a close call and they have no guarantees of getting through.

An even worse scenario faces Great Britain. They have had years to make sure they got their GB plans together and they have done absolutely ZERO. They haven’t won a tournament in over two and half years, have an incredibly experienced squad with seven Rio silver medalists in the squad that just finished the season but have struggled all year. 

Now, England over the next few weeks will need to qualify thru Europe and with a resurgent France and very good Ireland as well as Spain and Russia in the mix – qualification is hanging by a thread. It is not unlikely at all that we could be seeing two of GB, Australia and Samoa not at the Olympic Games. 

It’s going to make for an intriguing year ahead after a quite brilliant one for Viti. Some of the play this year was phenomenal and not only have Fijians all around the world followed them to the World Series, new fans have also come on board, attracted to the style and panache of the team. It’s so good to see the team playing well and all the signs are there that another amazing season is ahead. Last time around, some countries dropped in various stars like SBW, Bryan Habana, Virimi Vakatawa, Quade Cooper and Liam Messam to name a few. I wonder how many will fancy a crack at Tokyo once the Rugby World Cup is out of the way?

As for me, I’m enjoying life in London. Working as a consultant for FFR, I’ve helped to set up a Top 14 sevens competition and drop into the men’s and women’s programmes of their sevens teams to offer small nuggets of advice and planning to them. It’s fun and keeps me very loosely associated on the sevens game along with some of the work I do with HSBC. I’m consulting in various sports at the moment, including premiership football and international rugby and enjoying the mix I’ve got.

I’m really missing Fiji and can’t wait for an opportunity to come back soon. Personal life is also great, happy and grateful. For those of you that read Sevens Heaven, you will know  Natalie and I got divorced in 2016. She’s happily re- married now and I’m seeing an amazing woman called Michelle. I keep telling her about this beautiful island in the middle of the Pacific with the friendliest people on the planet – can you tell I’m missing Viti!!?



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