Coach Gareth Baber will mastermind Fiji’s defence of their Olympic Games sevens gold medal in Tokyo next year after agreeing a new contract with the Fiji Rugby Union.
Baber’s four-year deal was scheduled to end in December but with the Olympic Games being delayed for 12 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Fiji rugby officials have moved swiftly to ensure the head coach remains on board.
Fiji were the defending HSBC World Rugby Sevens series title holders and finished third after it was decided to end this year’s competition due to the world wide lockdown restrictions, which saw New Zealand handed the men’s title.
For Baber, the target is now to get his sevens squad ready for the schedule start of the next Sevens Series in Dubai at the end of November and plan the build-up to the Games, although the exact number of tournaments to be played in the series has yet to be confirmed.
Aminiasi Tuimaba has signed for Pau while Filimoni Botitu is now at Castres and both want the chance to help defend the country’s first gold medal, won at the Rio Olympics by a team coached by Ben Ryan.
Baber took over from Ryan knowing the enormity of the task he faced and is understandably delighted to have extended his Fiji contract until next year’s Games have taken place.
He told RugbyPass: “I have been asked to extend my contract which is great and the FRU are working hard to ensure there is a programme fit to defend the gold medal and I am delighted to see that through. That is what I came here to do and my contract was until the end of the year and now it will go past the Olympics next year.
“It is exciting to be working in a rugby mad country – a passionate country about sevens rugby – and as reigning Olympic champions I am well aware of the expectation that comes with the position. It would have felt like a job unfinished if I wasn’t able to see it through.
“It is tough for everyone around the world at the moment and Fiji is in the same boat and it can’t be underestimated how sevens can show the world what Fiji has to offer and help get the economy going.
“The attachment the people have with Fiji rugby being at the top of the world game is hugely important.”
The complications of having French placed players is something Baber has to deal with and he is confident that flexibility can be created to help release Tuimaba and Botitu for tournaments leading into the Olympic Games.
“French clubs know that when they sign a Fijian player he will want the opportunity to play in the Olympics: “ added Baber.
“We are trying to find a balance and I am not looking to get them released for ten tournaments, but it may be possible for two to four tournaments.
“I don’t know what the season will look like in sevens and for those two players, who have played with us for two and half seasons, they have good experience of international rugby and with that amount of time we would be in a good position to put them back into the system.
“The risk for them is that they won’t be with us full-time and they know how competitive sevens rugby is in Fiji and there could be other players coming up. Conversations are on-going.”