Fijiana coach Iliesa Tanivula may say his side are “punching above their weight” with their fifth-place finishes this season, but many believe a first Cup semi-final appearance is not too far away.
Fijiana coach Iliesa Tanivula admits that finishing fifth in every round of the HSBC World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series has been a case of “punching above their weight”, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t aiming for better at this weekend’s HSBC Kitakyushu Sevens in Japan.
The squad came out a week earlier than usual and were hosted in Oita, allowing them time to settle and recover from the journey and fine-tune their preparations which could prove the difference as they seek a first-ever Cup semi-final appearance – something World Rugby commentator Willie Los'e believes they will achieve before the season is out.
“We’ve been happy so far,” admitted Tanivula. “Compare that to last year when we finished from sixth to ninth. We have been lucky with injuries this time, we haven’t had a lot of major injuries, and that’s one of the reasons why we have made the step up.
“For the girls to be finishing fifth in the world series is a huge step; they are punching above their weight. We enjoy coming out to play and seeing what the other countries and the series as a whole has to offer.”
What will it take for Fijiana to break that new ground and challenge for a medal as the first world series round in Japan draws to a close at Mikuni World Stadium on Sunday?
“We’re assessing our games and looking at the top tier one nations like New Zealand, Australia and Canada – they are the benchmark for us,” reasoned Tanivula.
“I guess it comes down to how much we really want it on game day. Looking back at the games against Australia, we made mistakes that put us back, but it is a learning experience for us. We have a young squad and we’ll try and improve as the series goes on.
“It is down to a lack of composure that other teams like Australia have. We respect Australia. They are Olympic champions and are a good team and well coached. They are the benchmark for us.
“We have just got to keep nudging away. We have made some improvements and hopefully we can be consistent and competitive.”
Fijiana get to see Australia up close again this weekend with the sides drawn in Pool B alongside Ireland and Brazil, two other sides that are very familiar to Tanivula and his players.
“There aren’t easy teams. Ireland are improving all the time, as are Brazil, and we have got to be on our ‘A game’ every time and take each game as it comes. We need to try and cut out mistakes and play an error-free game and play to our flair and hopefully that will get us there.”
Fijiana currently sit in fourth place in the standings with 36 points, two above France and Russia, and another strong tournament is vital if they are to realise their goal of booking their place at Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 in San Francisco.
With four teams – New Zealand, Canada, Spain and USA – qualified as the semi-finalists at Moscow 2013, the best four teams excluding those from the 2016-17 series will join them and Fijiana are second in that race at present, behind Australia.
“That is definitely important for us and it is something we have spoken about as a squad,” explained Tanivula. “At the moment, we are fourth in the (overall) standings and if we can stay up there until after Clermont-Ferrand in June, it will be huge for us.”
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(Thanks to World Rugby for editorial and photography: www.worldrugby.org)