A nation dreams of rugby gold

A nation dreams of rugby gold
Retired Fijian sevens legend Waisale Serevi host a coaching cinic at the Padang with about 70 local youths.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

He sat up at the mention of rugby's presence at the Rio Olympics, flashing a broad smile.

There seemed to be an extra sparkle and not just from his gold filling, but maybe the dream of Fiji winning a medal of the same colour at the 2016 Games.

Waisale Serevi is widely regarded as the greatest player to step out onto the pitch in a rugby Sevens game, and he believes every Fijian is willing the team on to win gold in Rio de Janeiro where the Olympics kicks off in August.

While winning the HSBC Sevens World Series is always a grand achievement, the 47-year-old says this year is a little different, with every team using the event as platform to prepare for Rio.

"Everybody has it on their minds that Fiji will win the Olympic gold medal," said Serevi, on the sidelines of a coaching clinic at the Singapore Cricket Club (SCC) yesterday.

"I believe 90 per cent of Fijians don't watch the Olympics because there's no rugby but, this year, it's a big thing, for a small nation like Fiji.

"The whole Fijian population all over the world… they'll come with a lot of excuses not to go to work… just to watch Fiji battle in the Olympics - it's exciting."

Attended by some 70 children from local schools as well as the SCC Rugby Academy, the coaching clinic at the Padang was hosted by FOX Sports and StarHub, the official broadcasters of the HSBC World Rugby Singapore Sevens.

The series will be in Hong Kong this weekend, and will come to Singapore next weekend (April 16-17) at the National Stadium.

Rugby returns to the Olympics this year after a 92-year absence (the 15s version was last played at the 1924 Games) and Serevi believes that the Sevens series will be a platform for Fiji and their rivals to test players before assembling the strongest squad possible for the Olympics.

"Fiji are definitely challenging for the gold medal, but there are many teams trying to get resources and to go to the Olympics and compete," he indicated, naming New Zealand, South Africa and the United States as other gold-medal contenders

"I believe they are not worried about winning the series (this year) - it's good, but that's not the goal."

TESTING GROUND

"I believe they want to test players, who's capable of changing situations on the field, taking the pressure when the pressure's on, delivering what is needed, when it's needed the most - that is what coaches are looking for at the moment," added the man who led Fiji to the title in 2006, the last time Singapore hosted a leg of the series in 2006.

But he asserts that Singapore will still see a great show of rugby next weekend.

"Hong Kong and Singapore are two important tournaments, he said.

"The beauty of Sevens is that we cannot predict who will win.

"It is going to be a tough tournament, the top three teams are close to each other."

Fiji are leading the 18-nation standings on 106 points, with South Africa (105) and New Zealand (104) in close pursuit.

"The team to watch will be the US. They are sending their best team to Hong Kong, excluding Andrew Durutalo (Sunwolves flanker). They won the London Sevens last year," said Serevi, who could not let his mind stray too far from the Olympics and its impact on Fiji.

"I'm so excited for the opportunity that is there for Fiji," he said.

"First of all, our population is less than a million, and to win the gold medal is a bonus. But even to go and become an Olympian is a big thing for the Fijian rugby players."

shamiro@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on April 7, 2016.
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