Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 22 October 2019

Ben Ryan: Flying Fijians can cause tremors at Rugby World Cup 2019

Maybe this will be the tournament that the XVs side can emulate the success of Fiji's sevens

Ben Ryan (black shirt, right) coached Fiji to two Dubai Rugby Sevens titles as well as Olympic Gold at the 2016 Games in Rio. Jake Badger for The National
Ben Ryan (black shirt, right) coached Fiji to two Dubai Rugby Sevens titles as well as Olympic Gold at the 2016 Games in Rio. Jake Badger for The National

Back in Fiji, the people will be super excited for the Rugby World Cup 2019. The Flying Fijians are being talked up to cause some tremors, and rightly so.

They have some world class players in their ranks - 12 that have represented the sevens team too, including four Rio 2016 Olympic gold medal winners in Leone Nakarawa, Semi Kunatani, Bill Mata and Josh Tuisova. And the fullback, Alivereti Veitokani missed out on Rio selection by a whisker.

Fiji is a rugby mad country so no doubt all eyes will be on the fortunes of the XVs team and they have a chance in that first round group game to turn over the mighty Australians.

Sevens, though, is the national sport. Tournaments are played almost every weekend and across many of the 300-plus islands.

Sevens players are in all the TV commercials, and even adorn the currency. Bank holidays follow a World Series win, and folklore follows them wherever they go.

The team is almost always made up of players that live in the local villages on a paltry salary and often have worked alongside those neighbours and friends.

It is very much the nation’s team, and twinned with the rich history of past and present success, it’s been the reason that sevens has been ahead of XVs in Fiji.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a professional XVs team in Fiji. Until that happens, and some of the amazing European-based players have an option to stay at home and play in Super Rugby or similar, then sevens will continue to edge XVs.

However, the scalps of either Wales or Australia and a quarter-final berth may go a long, long way to redress that. Maybe this will be the tournament that also puts the big brother alongside its nippy little sibling.

Updated: September 20, 2019 11:39 AM

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