24 Jan 2020

Sport: Fiji 7s coach questions new format in Hamilton

3:40 pm on 24 January 2020

Fiji Sevens coach Gareth Baber has questioned the change in format for this weekend's tournament in Hamilton.

With New Zealand also hosting an official leg of the Women's World Series for the first time the men's competition has been cut back, with the four pool winners now advancing directly to the semi-finals.

Twenty-eight teams will take part in the first fully integrated men's and women's World Series tournament in New Zealand.

Twenty-eight teams will take part in the first fully integrated men's and women's World Series tournament in New Zealand. Photo: Mike Lee - KLC fotos for World Rugby

The elimination of the quarter final stage, means every pool game is effectively a must win, with Fiji drawn to face Samoa, Argentina and Australia this weekend.

Baber wasn't sold on the new format.

"It's a bit strange," he said. "It wouldn't be what my thought process would be in terms of a tournament for certain.

"I like the tournament format that we've played previously and obviously for me the big one was why the question marks about why we do it this year [leading into the Olympics] to change up on that consistency."

Fiji captains Meli Derenalagi and Raijieli Daveua.

Fiji captains Meli Derenalagi and Raijieli Daveua. Photo: Mike Lee - KLC fotos for World Rugby

Baber said it would take some adjustment with teams only playing two games on the opening day of the weekend.

"There's been a lot of hype around these three games that you play in your pool, which is the same that it's always been, but obviously every single one of them is a must-win so that creates its own intensity," he said.

"The blocks of work that you do on a game-day, on a Saturday, you're only going to get two now...previously you would had three and jump into day two and you get your three games in quick succession.

"I think the issue is going to be more about the recovery following potentially those five games between tournaments because you're not finishing until late on Sunday night...and you're in a plane on Sunday morning and travelling over to Sydney so I think there's a lot of unknowns to be quite honest with you."

Fiji's coach Gareth Baber following their victory in Hamilton.

Gareth Baber. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

"Does it suit us? Potentially. But I'm sure there's other teams that are probably thinking the same thing...but it's all new to all of us.

"It's been very strange and certainly we fell short in Dubai and only had four games and that felt very strange to us as well."

The Fiji men's team has never lost in Hamilton, having won back to back titles since the New Zealand leg of the World Series was shifted north from Wellington.

Baber said they always received a warm welcome from the local Fijian community.

"It's incredible to have that support here," he said. "You know, it becomes like a home tournament for us and you know we've got very fond memories of the last two years of a sea of blue in the stadium and the stadium and the noise it makes when we come out of the changing rooms into that tunnel and onto the pitch."

"For our players who love playing for Fiji and love playing for family and for community, and particularly the fans that travel around the world, you know it's a huge boost for us to have."

"We're just really appreciative that everyone is making that effort to make us feel like we're home and part of the community."

Fiji celebrate their second straight Hamilton 7s title.

Fiji celebrate their second straight Hamilton 7s title. Photo: Mike Lee - KLC fotos for World Rugby

The reigning World Series champions have made a slow start to their title defence, finishing ninth in Dubai and fourth in Cape Town, including defeats against Argentina, South Africa, New Zealand and France.

Baber said the team had spent the past six weeks reflecting on where they needed to improve.

"We needed to have some good consistency in...our training environment and to make sure that we were getting the training sessions done with the accuracy that we needed and that has been a big focus."

"The weather is good here in Hamilton, the pitch is fantastic, obviously everyone is looking forward to it being quick and certainly we're going to need to ensure that our structure around our game is effective," he said.

"And then also that we're able to operate at that high intensity level with that quality skill level that's required to be able to go and create pressure on opponents both with and without the ball."

New Zealand's Joe Webber takes on the Fiji defence in the Cup Semi Final in Cape Town.

Fiji suffered three defeats in Cape Town. Photo: Mike Lee - KLC fotos for World Rugby

Fiji will open their title defence against Pacific rivals Samoa, who are just one place below them in the World Series standings.

"What we don't want to do is create a mindset that it's just going to be physical," he said.

"It's about us, preparing ourselves for our game, and we know that when we are able to put that together and create a balance between speed around the field and breaking up the opposition and the pressure and then that creates the opportunities for us to go and do what we've got to do."

"We also know that we've got to get some structure right in our game and that's what let us down certainly in Dubai. It was better in South Africa but it needs to be better again to go across great teams like Samoa, like Australia and Argentina."

Fiji has finalised its squad for this weekend's tournament with Alasio Naduva named the 13th player.

Meanwhile, Ana Maria Roqica has been named as 13th player for the Fiji women's team, who will make its Hamilton debut against England and China on Saturday before taking on hosts and defending World Series champions New Zealand on Sunday.

Fiji players sing a song during a school visit in Hamilton this week.

Fiji players sing a song during a school visit in Hamilton this week. Photo: Mike Lee - KLC fotos for World Rugby

The experienced Roqica missed the the Dubai and Cape Town legs due to injury and Fijiana coach Saiasi Fuli said: "The competition is very tough and the girls have put up a great effort prior to the selection".

Fiji men's squad:

Sevuloni Mocenacagi, Josua Vakurunabili, Asaeli Tuivuaka, Kavekini Tabu, Apenisa Cakaubalavu, Meli Derenalagi (c), Vilimoni Botitu, Waisea Nacuqu, Jerry Tuwai, Livai Ikanikoda, Aminiasi Tuimaba, Napolioni Ratu, Alasio Naduva.

Fiji women's squad:

Raijieli Daveua (c), Vasiti Solikoviti, Mereseini Leivere, Rusila Nagasau, Lavenia Tinai, Tokasa Seniyasi, Aloesi Nakoci, Luisa Tisolo, Viniana Riwai, Roela Radiniyavuna,

Asinate Savu, Ana Naimasi, Ana Maria Roqica.

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