Okay sports fans, on “Background Buzz” today I take a closer look at the Fiji Men’s 7s Team, where many Fiji fans are critical of Ben Gollings and his Fiji team for not winning any tournament in the HSBC 7s Series 2023. Some fans are outright rude and disrespectful.
So when you look at the HSBC World Rugby 7s Series 2023, two players stand out – champion Samoan flyer, Va’a Apelu Maliko, who scored an incredible 50 tries across the 2023 Series for 252 points, along with 41 line breaks, 122 tackles, 55 offloads and 214 carries.
In doing so, Maliko grabbed the DHL Impact Player and also the Top Try Scorer Awards for 2023.
The other standout was All Blacks 7s Fijian playmaker, Akuila Rokolisoa who won the Hot Stepper Award voted by fans on social media, and along with the Samoan, was named in the HSBC Dream Team 2023 along with three Argentinians, All Blacks 7s player Leo Carter and Henry Paterson of Australia.
No Fiji 7s Player in sight – so what’s gone wrong with Fiji – wrong Coach, wrong Strength and Conditioning Coach, wrong players – all the above?
The fact is, this Fiji 7s team is slowly but surely getting better.
As the players start to gel by getting their communications and combinations in sync, winning HSBC 7s tournaments will follow.
After a year of frustration and a couple of near misses, the London 7s was their best outing by far, with only an unfortunate red card to Batirerega in the second minute of the final, hampering any chance of success.
In fact, I would argue that red cards in 7s ruin the game.
World Rugby needs to take a good hard look at the impact of sending players off in rugby 7s and come up with smarter rules around red card infringements.
Just because we have red cards in XVs doesn’t mean that we have to have red cards in 7s.
There are so many XVs rules that have already been ditched or amended to make 7s rugby a better, fairer game – so why not smarten up the rules around cards?
Apart from ruining the contest, sending off a player in 7s has a disproportionately much higher negative impact on his team, than red-carding a player in a XVs game.
For example, the impact of time for Batirerega’s send off on his teammates after two minutes was that they had to play 85.7% of the game without him, while having to cover more than 833 square meters per man, more than double the area players in a XVs game have to each cover.
All up – it’s a killer and no contest.
But back to the Fiji 7s team – fans must remember that Fiji typically plays the highest risk style of 7s rugby – crazy offloads at very high tempo, so unless everything is in sync, things will generally fall apart.
And they have, but the main objective of 2023 was to qualify for the Olympics in Paris in 2024 and they did that, so a big tick there.
Ben Gollings has been re-building his squad and still has a ways to go for Paris in 2024.
Apart from double Olympic gold medalist Jerry Tuwai, Coach Ben Gollings has held on to Waisea Nacuqu from Tokyo.
Big experienced forwards – Kalione Nasoko, Josua Vakurinabili, Meli Derenalagi plus utility Semi Radradra from Tokyo are all gone – and with them a massive loss of experience.
In the backs Gollings has lost – Iosefo Masi now a star Centre for the Fijian Drua, Vilimoni Botitu, Jiuta Wainiqolo and Napolioni Bolaca.
Theoretically, Iosefo Masi, Wainiqolo and Bolaca could be selected again next year, but the elephant in the room is the aging trio of Tuwai, Nacuqu and Mocenacagi – I leave that call to Gollings as by now, he would know their character, fitness and what they can offer his 2024 squad, better than anyone else in Fiji.
My thoughts are; watching the All Blacks 7s warrior – Tim Mickleson, I still feel there is a place for Mocenacagi or Iosefo Masi.
I also feel Jerry Tuwai and Waisea Nacuqu are past their best, or definitely will be by Paris 2024.
The Fiji Rugby Union needs to fix Napolioni Bolaca’s knee injury so he has a chance of making Fiji’s Olympic team 2024. He is a game breaker and if fully fixed will strengthen the Fiji team no end, plus his selection will make it easier to select either one of
Tuwai or Nacuqu as Fiji cannot afford to carry two veterans in such key dynamic positions as halfback/sweeper or playmaker.
The rest of Fiji’s 2024 Olympic squad, led by the fantastic Joseva Talacolo and the dynamic Manueli Maisamoa are within the current crop of players like Teba, Rasaku, Tamani and Daugunu who now need to step up to the plate.