Fiji boss sends warning to overseas XVs stars hopping on Olympic bandwagon

Fiji’s overseas-based stars have been warned the continuing disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic will make it even tougher for them to claim places in the sevens squad to defend the Olympic gold medal at the Tokyo Games later this year.

A set of criteria have been established in conjunction with coach Gareth Baber to try and sidestep the kind of pandemic problems that restricted the Fijian 15s team to just one game during the recent Autumn Nations Cup in Europe which saw numerous players and staff return positive tests. Bristol’s Semi Radradra has made it clear he wants to be part of the gold medal defence and Baber would like to include other European based players if they can be released for pre-Games camps and matches.

FRU chief executive officer John O’Connor told SUNsports “The overseas-based players need time to make a transition from playing fifteens to sev­ens rugby. It’s going to take time for them and it’s not easy and all the overseas-based players are aware of this.

“We have learned a lot from our experience in the Nations Autumn and no one can take their inclusion for granted since we have to consider things like joining a negative bubble and so forth. With COVID- 19 picking up momentum in most countries and new lockdown measures taken, getting players back home and into a negative bubble will be challenge but we are putting plans into place and hope to leave no stone unturned in our preparation for the Olympic.”

O’Connor said for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, overseas-based – players like Leone Nakarawa, Josua Tuisova and Semi Kunatani had joined the training squad for more than two months before the tournament. “We’ve started talks with the overseas-based players’ clubs if they could be released earli­er,” he added.

A FRU sanctioned- Sevens Series gets underway at Lawaqa Park, Sigatoka this weekend to try and fill the void created by the cancellation of HSBC World Rugby Sevens series events with Russia and Japan possibly taking part. “It’s going to be an exciting weekend of sevens rugby. The selectors will be out there identify­ing talented players that can make the national sevens training squad.

“We’re fortunate in Fiji because we have so many talented 7 players who form quality sev­ens teams who could provide stiff competition to our national sevens players. All these in­ternational teams are desperately looking for more game time against quality oppositions. They could only get that in Fiji.”