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Time To Make Changes Now

Congratulations, to Fiji Airways Fijian men’s rugby sevens head coach Ben Gollings for guiding the team to next year’s Paris Olympic Games.

Fiji Airways Fijian men’s rugby sevens captain Joseva Talacolo (back, on the left) during the Captain’s photo shoot in London on May 18, 2023.Photo: World Rugby

Congratulations, to Fiji Airways Fijian men’s rugby sevens head coach Ben Gollings for guiding the team to next year’s Paris Olympic Games. This weekend’s London Sevens is the last this season, yet the Fijians have not won one of the 2022/23 HSBC World Sevens Series tournaments.

With the two-time Olympic Games gold medalists managing a top four placing in the series standings to qualify, it was not an easy task after losing players like Elia Canakaivata, Iosefo Masi and Kaminieli Rasaku to fifteens rugby.

And what made it worse was the unavailability of key players like Jerry Tuwai, Joseva Talacolo, Filipo Sauturaga, Sevu Mocenacagi, Josua Vakurinabili and Jerry Matana during certain parts of the series due to injuries and sickness.

This is Gollings’ second triumph with our national men’s sevens team.

The other was the Sevens Rugby World Cup win in Cape Town, South Africa, last September where Fiji clinched the Melrose Cup for the third time.

There has been a public outcry for Gollings and his coaching staff to go after the team’s poor showing during the series. Questions were raised on the players’ fitness and whether the strength and conditioning coach, Etu Tusitala, was the man for the job. Also, queries were made on assistant coach Viliame Satala’s credentials.

After the Singapore Sevens, Gollings had indicated that he was staying on to coach the team to the Olympics.

The former England rugby sevens skipper was committed to guiding Fiji to its third Olympic Games gold medal win. Even our sevens maestro, Waisale Serevi, threw his support for Gollings and the team.

Now after last weekend’s poor performance at the Toulouse Sevens, where the team failed to reach the Cup quarterfinals and finished ninth in the tournament, things are looking bad for Gollings and the coaching staff.

The decision makers at Rugby House need to be fair and transparent to all parties in their review before deciding on what cause of action they would take.

And one way the decision makers could learn from was how New Zealand Rugby handled the case around the All Blacks head coach Ian Foster, after the team’s poor Test results in 2020 and 2021.

With the Rugby World Cup set for September 8, this year, NZ Rugby made a move in July, last year where they retained Foster as head coach but sacked his assistant coaches John Plumtree and Brad Mooar.

They were replaced by Jason Ryan and Joe Schmidt- the change worked wonders for the All Blacks.

Foster was given the option to accept the changes or resign.

So, why can’t we do it here, we can keep Gollings as head coach but terminate the services of the assistant coaches.

We need coaches that can bring about the much-needed changes and inject more in terms of progressing the team.

We have the local expertise to provide just that, so let’s take a look at those who are there to replace them:

Assistant Coach

Senirusi Seruvakula: He is the country’s most successful coach but can he do it in sevens rugby? Remember, Gareth Baber took Brad Harris as his assistant coach to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Harris was Seruvakula’s assistant coach with the Fijian Drua when they won the Australian National Rugby Championship in 2018.

Seruvakula like Harris, is a forward and knows what it takes to drive sevens’ players to aggressively contest for possession in the rucks, win restarts and make strong carries.

Isake Katonibau: He has played under Ben Ryan and Baber. Katonibau coached Northland in the Skipper Cup competition and a rugged sevens forward. He is a straight shooter and pushes players to go the extra mile.

Ro Alifereti Doviverata: The former Flying Fijians captain and national sevens rep knows what is needed to perform at that level.

Doviverata also coached the national women’s sevens team to the HSBC World Sevens Series; he also guided the Fijiana XVs to the 2022 Women’s Rugby World Cup playoffs where they qualified for the first time.

He coached Rewa in the Skipper Cup and last year he coached Lakeba in the Suva Rugby Union competition.

Strength and Conditioning Coach 

Eroni Viqasi: He has been Naca Cawanibuka’s understudy and should be the suitable person to take up the job.

Viqasi’s last assignment was the Rooster Chicken Fijiana Drua that retained the Super W title.

On how he was overlooked from the start is anybody’s guess.

Alivereti Cawanibuka: The veteran academic who once heads the Fiji National University’s Sports Science programme is now retired and could provide the much-needed expertise to the coaching panel.

Master Cawanibuka as he is commonly known, is the former national athletics, volleyball and sevens rugby coach.

Story by: Leone Cabenatabua – [email protected]