Soul-searching as Fiji flop again ahead of tilt at third Games gold

rugby06 April 2024 12:36| © AFP
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Fiji's men are the reigning two-time Olympic rugby sevens champions and when they play, the Pacific island country comes to a standstill and crime there plummets.

But just over three months before they defend their cherished Olympic crown in Paris, there is soul-searching after a painful barren run in the World Series.

The latest disappointment came in a 19-12 loss to holders New Zealand in the quarterfinals on Saturday in Hong Kong, the most prestigious leg of the series and a tournament Fiji consider home.

One month ago, Englishman Ben Gollings was sacked as head coach and replaced by former Fiji sevens captain Osea Kolinisau, who helped the country to Olympic gold as a player at the 2016 Rio Games.

"In the pursuit of Olympic glory in France, we have to have the best," rugby board boss Peter Mazey said in axing Gollings.

Kolinisau took charge for the first time this week in a hot and wet Hong Kong, where Fiji have triumphed a record 19 times and are usually the hottest ticket in town.

But coming to Hong Kong, they had not won a tournament in the five legs so far of the current series.

That poor run continued in defeat to New Zealand and skipper Vatemo Ravouvou told AFP: "We planned to come and win but it wasn't a good enough week and it wasn't our day today.

"The boys have to adapt to the change in coaching staff and we are getting there. But we need to improve in a lot of things, especially our defence."

In a message to the large number of colourful Fiji fans at Hong Kong Stadium, many wearing blue wigs, Ravouvou said: "We will work hard to put Fiji back on the map."


Rugby sevens is the national sport of Fiji.

They have long excelled at the abbreviated form of rugby with slick handling, speed, crunching tackles and a desire to run the ball from anywhere, often ending with outrageous tries.

They won the Olympic title in 2016 by demolishing Great Britain 43-7 in the final, then again in Tokyo in 2021 by beating New Zealand 27-12 in the gold-medal match.

Those are the only Olympic golds the country of just under one million people has ever won.

A seven-dollar banknote was introduced in 2016 to celebrate gold in Rio, and was reissued in 2021 when they repeated the feat.

Gollings took over in December that year but was axed with the team failing to replicate their golden touch under him.

Satish Narain, a rugby commentator for Fiji's national broadcaster, told AFP in Hong Kong that there were wider issues at play beyond the coaching.

"Our players are not smart enough, they are not fit enough for today's game, our players make wrong decisions under pressure," he said, adding that some other countries worked harder and had caught up.

Narain declined to call it a crisis, saying: "I would call it Fiji going through a phase in their rugby where a lot of soul-searching needs to be done."

"Fiji at home used to have a very strong club competition," he added, looking at some of the issues facing the country's sevens rugby.

"Today our club competition isn't that well organised."

Despite recent travails there is "an air of hope" that Fiji will somehow prevail once more this summer in Paris, said Narain.

"Nothing else will make the Fijian fans happy," he added.

On Sunday in Hong Kong, Ireland meet France and Australia face New Zealand in the semifinals, with the final later the same day.