Fiji sevens coach Gareth Baber has revealed how much his team draws from the incredible support of Fiji expats around the globe and will bank on the “sea of blue” to break their Sydney Sevens drought this weekend.
Despite being the kings of sevens, Fiji have never won the Sydney leg of the World Sevens Series in the three years it’s been hosted in the Harbour City
But the Fijians are confident they can turn that around at Spotless Stadium after displaying white-hot form in the Hamilton Sevens last weekend, where they thumped the USA 36-0 in the decider and took a share of the overall series lead.
When in form, Fiji are already hard to beat but when they’ve got a boisterous crowd of fans at their back, it becomes mission impossible for rival teams.
Such was the crazily intense level of Fijian support in Hamilton, it appeared like a home tournament.
Those same scenes have unfolded at the Sydney Sevens in the first three years, where huge number of the city’s Fijian community turn the venue into a home crowd whenever their beloved team played.
Baber, a Welshman who took over from Ben Ryan, said he is often shocked to see that same sort of support all around the world.
“We don’t have a home tournament so the success that Fiji has always had has been off the back of going to places there really shouldn’t be Fijians,” Baber said.
“But they are, they’re all around the world.
It is not a cliche to say when you travel around Fiji, you see groups of kids all playing sevens rugby on very many different forms of tarmac, to rock, to grass, to rubble to beaches.
“It’s ingrained in Fijian DNA, so when we travel the world and see the sea of blue that we do see. It is a phenomenal connection for us as Fijians to realise exactly what that means to us.
“It gives us that lift, really when we are in positions like we were at the weekend, and we have been previously. Sometimes when it is not going so well, it is a little bit of an anchor for the players … I can say to the players at halftime: ‘look around you, this is what you have to live up to, this is the responsibility when we pull on the white jersey’.”
With Allianz Stadium out of action, Sydney Sevens has moved to western Sydney this year and it’s expected the Fijian community will turn out in force. Outside Fiji, Sydney has the highest Fijian population in the world.
Baber said winning in Sydney was a big goal for his team.
“We haven’t performed here here over the last couple of seasons, we know that,” he said.
“It’s a great place to come and play, a sporting nation and the Australian team is putting pressure on all of us to get those spots in the Olympics.
“We know there is going to be a Fijian crowd here for us again, which is superb. It is one we want to put to bed, in terms of the last couple of years and make sure we carry on with the quality that we showed in Hamilton.”
Though fielding a number of new faces this season, Baber said an intense focus on fitness and discipline over the Christmas break had helped his team display consistent strength in both attack and defence in Hamilton.
“Generally we are getting more difficult to score against, which is great,” Baber said.
‘We were particularly ruthless when we did have (the ball), as as accurate as I have seen us. That comes from a lot of hard work off the field, over the numbers of years that we have been together.”
Fiji’s skills levels were brilliant in Hamilton, particularly in their freakish offloading.
Baber said while that skill was a natural talent of Fijian players, being able to do it all weekend was a result of hard work behind the scenes.
“For me as a coach coming from Wales, and even me playing, I didn’t possess that enormity of skill the Fijians have got. It is a great given to have in a coaching environment,” he said.
“But the work that goes on behind that is huge amounts of time in the gym, and running, to get yourself in those positions that you can do that time and time again.
“In Fiji we are blessed with that mindset. We are trying to create the freedom to go and play and take away a lot of the clutter that can surround individuals when they come in to perform.
“For me as a coach, what I am trying to really do is recreate in their minds a little bit of how they’ve always played, in the villages in Fiji, where they have freedom to play.”