WELLINGTON, New Zealand (NWN) – Outgoing Sevens coach Gareth Baber will lead Fiji’s 15th all-European team on their UK and European tour next month.
Baber will be assisted by former Irish prostitute and captain Rory Best, former Scottish flyhaf Duncan Hodge and Richie Gray from Scotland on the British coaching team.
Fiji Rugby chief executive John O’Connor said that due to issues with international travel and quarantine restrictions, the selectors decided not to include players from the southern hemisphere on the tour, which includes matches against Spain, Wales and Georgia.
Fiji Rugby also decided that Fiji head coach Vern Cotter and his New Zealand assistants would not be on the tour.
“We were unable to guarantee their return due to the lack of (controlled isolation and quarantine) points in Australia and New Zealand,” O’Connor said. “We couldn’t risk players and staff getting stuck in the northern hemisphere in 2022.”
O’Connor said Baber, who helped the Fiji sevens defend his Olympic gold medal in Tokyo in late July, became “natural selection” when a head coach from the northern hemisphere was needed.
“While we understand this will be a challenge for Gareth, we believe he will do well with the Fijian players as they prepare for the three tests,” O’Connor said.
Baber had excellent opportunities for a short-term replacement as head coach. The Wales coach stepped down as Fiji-7 coach last week.
Fiji Rugby tried to renew his contract for the sevens program, but Baber said that after his success in the shorter format, he wanted to challenge himself in the traditional 15. The opportunity to do so came sooner than expected.
“Working with flying Fijians is a fantastic challenge in a very unique situation,” Baber said. “As Vern Cotter and his staff face logistical challenges that hinder their travel, I have to combine this incredible play talent and support staff experience into a winning formula in such a short space of time.”
On Tuesday, Fiji selected a 28-man squad for the tour, drawn from players competing in France’s Top 14, English Premier League and other British and European tournaments.
“This is a smaller squad than usual,” said Fiji’s high performing manager Simon Raivalui. “We usually travel with 32 players, but due to a lack of position, we have a group of 28 players who will have cover in most areas.”
He said there might be a shortage of reinforcements at the headstand, prostitute and melee.
“We don’t have depth at these positions in the northern hemisphere, and we would have invited players from the southern hemisphere to replace them,” he said, “but we (still) picked a great team.”
The team consists of 16 strikers and 12 defenders, as well as Olympic gold medalists Vilimoni Botitu, Aminiasi Tuimaba and Ciuta Vainikolo.
Fiji Team: Forwards, Peni Rawai, Eroni Mavi, Samuel Matavesi, Peniami Narisia, Luc Tagi, Mesake Doge, Lira Atalifo, Tevita Ratuva, Temo Mayanavanua, Albert Tuisue, Leone Nakarawa, Yato Pecheli, Johnny Dayerna Dyer Mata; Backs, Frank Lomani, Nikola Matavalu, Ben Volavola, Vilimoni Botitu, Levani Botia, Enerko Bulirua, Vaissea Nayakalevu, Josua Tuisova, Eroni Sau, Aminiasi Tuimaba, Juta Vainikolo, Seta Tuikuvu.
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