Head coach Gareth Baber admits it is highly unlikely he could throw Taqele Naiyaravoro a potential Rugby World Cup lifeline by naming the powerful Northampton wing in the Fiji squad for the remaining HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series legs in London and Paris.
John McKee, the Fiji 15’s head coach is formulating his squad for the World Cup in Japan in September and has been impressed by the try scoring form of Naiyaravoro, who won the last of his two Wallaby caps in the 44-40 loss to England in June 2016.
McKee believes it is still possible to get the wing qualified for Fiji and said: ”Taqele is in fine form at Franklin’s Gardens and having played for Australia, he needs to be eligible to play for Fiji. And for this we need him to play for Fiji at the World Sevens Series next stop in London on May 25-26. But the decision will be entirely on Fiji Airways Fijian 7s coach Gareth Baber, he makes the call.”
However, Baber told RugbyPass from the Fiji Sevens squad’s training base in Suva that to parachute any player into the squad at this late stage would be difficult to justify, particularly with the team just three points behind Series leaders USA heading into the London leg.
The Fiji sevens squad are currently undergoing intensive training in an attempt overtake the USA and win the title just a year out from the defence of their Olympic gold won in Rio in 2016. The top four teams in the Series standing will automatically qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan and Baber is totally focussed on clinching the HSBC title which was snatched away from Fiji by South Africa in the final leg in Paris 12 months ago.
Baber said: “It is a tough one and a player of that talent is someone you want to see representing Fiji in Sevens or 15s. The timing at the moment is very difficult with a World Sevens Series to be won and he is still involved with Northampton, who are trying for a top four Premiership finish and potential play-off semi-finals.
“To try and piece all that together before you even start to find out the fitness levels to be able to play sevens, is too difficult at this stage to think about putting him into London. In the future we may have an opportunity to bring Naiyaravoro in and blood him to see what he could do in sevens jersey but for me to say now “we will have him in” is doing a disservice to the players I have here or the ones I would potentially bring in who have done the due diligence. The bottom line is that we have to go and win a World Series and I don’t want to change the dynamic of the squad overnight.”
According to World Rugby, under the Olympic Sevens qualification regulations, one of the criteria is that a player would need to play in four Sevens rounds to switch countries.
Paula Dranisinukula has been leading the Fiji Sevens squad which defended their Hong Kong title for a fifth successive time and has been joined in training by key players Kalione Nasoko, Mesulame Kunavula and Waisea Nacuqu who are now available.
Dranisnukula said: “ The USA is a tough opponent and they study us well but they cannot cope with our offload game. They cannot defend our offload game and if we score two tries in the first half then again in the second half they will just give up. If they want to beat us they keep ball away from us and maintain pressure throughout the game. We are working on applying pressure for 14 minutes, it will be a good challenge. The boys can’t wait to go and play the last leg and take on the challenge. It will not be easy we will sweat and bleed for it but the boys are ready.”