The biggest 7s tournament in the world
Fiji is the current world champions in 7s and they take this very seriously, so much so that 72 teams turn up for the national trials.
In the rugby haven of the Islands of Fiji, the game of 7s is right up there with God, life & many of the nations happiest memories. Today saw play conclude in the biggest 7s tournament in the world, it also doubled as the national trials & the 2 day event saw 72 men’s teams and 8 woman’s all looking to be Fiji’s best. Watching on were 19,000 vocal supporters and 18,999 wana be selectors.
To put a little background about the game in this nation you only need to visit a village in the late afternoon, games are thriving on any blade of grass and participants range from the Kaji (young) to the Gase (old), they are giving it there all and pulling maneuvers from the past greats of the game. To top this off they even have a nightclub called the Melrose Cup.
Speaking of greats this tournament had so many, current world champion players, past world champion players and umpteen former Fiji representatives. It was jam packed with the best of the best, and a sprinkling of some wanting to be best & some just wanting to play the best in the game.
Four years ago a man locally known as either the Maestro, or the Magician -non other than Waisale Serevi dotted down in extra time to secure the World Cup. This sent Fiji into wild celebrations, the nations joy also ended up with a public holiday the day the team flew home, this really shows the magnitude of the win in this place.
As time ticks it 10 days until Fiji defend the prized Melrose Cup, this proud nation of late has been in replenishing phase, and many new boys have been donning the famous jersey. If you walk around the streets 90% of the people will tell you “We need Serevi”, they have been a little unhappy with the Fiji team performances of late, but today this pack of young men matured in stunning fashion.
Fresh off the plane from the San Diego 7s, these guys didn’t even get a chance to return home to friends and family, they were marched straight back into camp. Thrown into the firing line the young Fiji reps were wanted by 71 teams from around Fiji, some thought they were better and they threw everything at Fiji. What transpired was a display that rocked the critics throughout land, this band of new simply dispatched everything in front of them over the 2 days. The icing on the cake was a commanding 40-14 win in the final.
What makes the victory even sweeter was that it was against a virtual Fiji armchair selectors team. Serevi handpicked experienced men, names like William Ryder, Marika Vunibaka & Satala (the stretcher!). These guys are rock stars in this land and the thought of the clash had the capacity crowd buzzing with expectation.
In unbelievable scenes the crowd was cheering for the old against the new, the Fiji team was against brutal opponents and what turned out to be an away crowd. Nowhere else in the world will you get the home booing against their national team, you had this in Fiji today and that was because the man Serevi was playing, above all the nation links with him. He is the guru, he has done so much for Fiji and the people are relentless in support. But today they were shown a lesson in fitness, composure and youth with an eye for the try line and their mates in support. This team was awesome.
On a pure rugby day this is the best possible build up the Fiji national team could have had. They were tested to the max by men that have been there and done that, they had to contend with the emotions of a deafening crowd against them and they came up strong, very strong. In the context of Fiji many of these reps would have been matching up against their idols and childhood heroes, it really was a day of reckoning for these lads. Even they as players on the semi-pro IRB Sevens circuit would have been daunted by the prospect of who they met in the final. Serevi is like a God and the men around him are nearly as mythical. What they did was wash away worries of fatigue, excuses of jet lag & newspaper quotes of “no substitute for experience” & played like they were proud Fijian’s with a long history.
In the last 2 legs of the IRB Series they have folded, today their confidence was born; they took the challenge head on and triumphed. This will do them the world of good and witnessing what happened today you have to say they are in the hunt to retain their World Cup.
Coach Iliesa Tanivula & the Fiji Rugby Union has named a squad of 25, some of this current team have made the cut & in come a handful of world super stars. 2007 RWC heroes -like Filimone Delesau & Semisi Naevo and European sensation Napolioni Nalaga add serious zing to the squad. All in all this team reeks talent, pace and potential. Against them is time, they have 10 days to gel as one, but like no other country on the globe these men were born to play this game called 7s.