Players keen to join Fijiana 7s following Olympic success

The coach of the Fiji women's sevens team has been inundated with messages and phone calls from prospective players since their bronze medal win at the Tokyo Olympics.

The Fijiana defeated Great Britain on Saturday night to win the team's first ever Olympic medal.

Coach Saiasi Fuli said women's rugby is not played at primary or secondary school level in Fiji and some of his players have only took up the sport two years ago.

But their success in Tokyo is proving to be the perfect recruitment tool.

"Straight after that bronze medal win I had hundreds of calls from girls in Fiji and Fijians overseas wanting to come and join the Fijiana," he said from Tokyo.

"That is the positive impact of this Olympic tournament and it motivates and encourages young girls in Fiji to take up the sport of rugby sevens and increase the number of women's participation in Fiji."

Participation levels remained a problem in the women's game, with most choosing to play netball, athletics or basketball, Fuli said.

"60 to 70 percent of our efforts, our coaching staff, is just focusing on core skills," he said.

"These girls they don't play rugby from primary schools, secondary schools, until the organised sevens tournaments in Fiji, so that's not a very well organised competition. Last year Fiji Rugby Union introduced the first ever Skipper Cup (domestic) competition. It's a male-dominated sport in Fiji."

The inaugural Fiji Rugby Super 7s Series was held earlier this year to provide competitive matches for the Fijian players in the absence of international competition.

16 men's teams took part in three two-day tournaments, but Fuli said they struggled to find enough players to field just four teams in the women's competition.

"That four women's teams: two is from our sevens team and the other two is the squad of the (Fijiana) 15s," he said.

"Straight after the first tournament I said that we can't compete at the Olympics just playing with each other and those opposition are just the 15s squad, and to make it it worse is the other women's club pulled out of the sevens series and we had no competition again."

Fuli said he ended up having to invite four men's teams to play against the Fijiana squad in training every Wednesday and provide them with lunch and recovery, to ensure his players were being tested in their Olympic build-up.

The Fiji Rugby Union has been making inroads in developing the women's game, through initiative such as the Get Into Rugby programme, community outreach and the introduction of more club and provincial competitions.

Fuli said there was about one thousand women playing rugby in Fiji but many of them only take up the sport for the first time in their mid 20s. He said if the Fijiana are to compete with Australia and New Zealand on a consistent basis, young girls need to be exposed to the game at a younger age.

"Some of these players I ID them from our secondary school athletic championship. Reapi Ulunisau, the one who top-scored with eight tries (in Tokyo)...she was playing netball all her life," he said.

"That is another challenge, trying to look for the right profile, the right player, to come into our squad and develop them and train them and prepare them for high performance rugby and international competition."