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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Former Fiji coach Ben Ryan torn between England and France at Dubai Rugby Sevens

'If it is England-France, I want France to win because they are my employees, and I can see what they are trying to do

Ben Ryan shown during a training session when he was England sevens coach in 2007. David Rogers / Getty Images
Ben Ryan shown during a training session when he was England sevens coach in 2007. David Rogers / Getty Images

When England and France vie for qualification from Pool B at The Sevens on Friday, a celebrated coach from London will be supporting the French – even though he admits his heart belongs in Fiji.

Confused? Ben Ryan certainly is. The Englishman was granted the highest honour in Fiji after guiding the Pacific islanders to a first Olympic medal of any kind – it happened to be gold – at the Olympics in Rio in 2016.

He has stayed away from full-time work since then, but is currently advising France on a consultancy basis.

The opening day in Dubai will see the French play an England side that still involves several players Ryan coached when he was in charge, as well as Spain and Scotland.

Ryan said he is “confused myself” as to who to follow, but that England are so strong “they don’t need my support anyway”.

“I guess, ultimately, I want France to qualify ahead of [England] out of the group because I am working with France,” Ryan said.

“If it is England-France, I want France to win because they are my employees, and I can see what they are trying to do.

“I think England will be there or thereabouts in every tournament. They will miss Dan Bibby big time, but they have some very, very experienced players, and I think they will go deep in the tournament, especially in Dubai.”

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Ryan is in Dubai this weekend as a sponsors’ ambassador, rather than in an official capacity with France.

He will also be keenly following the Fijians, who play Wales, Australia and Russia on Day 1.

“I don’t want to say anything critical about Fiji, I just want them to play the Fijian way,” Ryan said. “If I see the Fijian way being played, I am with them 100 per cent.”

Ryan believes South Africa are the best equipped side in Dubai this weekend. They are in a group with Uganda, Kenya and Canada.

“We are fortunate to have a big base of players, as we even have a second side playing in the International Invitational,” Neil Powell, the South Africa coach, said.

“We are trying to build the depth in the squad so that when we reach the Olympics in 2020 we have a bigger group of experienced sevens players to select from.”