The prospect of hosting a Sevens World Series tournament in Fiji would be “a big boost” to the national sevens side and the country as a whole, according to rising Flying Fijians star Meli Derenalagi.
Despite Fiji’s status as a global hotbed for rugby sevens, the nation is still yet to hold a World Series event, but reports from New Zealand media earlier this year suggested that could be set to change in the coming years.
Speaking at the Hamilton Sevens in January, New Zealand Rugby chief rugby officer Nigel Cass confirmed that the Kiwi leg of the world circuit would not be held in Hamilton next year, and that Fiji had instead been considered an option as an alternative host.
Early suggestions indicated that Fiji and Hamilton would host the New Zealand leg of the series in alternate years, but Cass said the Pacific nation didn’t have the infrastructure to hold a tournament as soon as 2021.
While the event will stay in New Zealand for the next two years, Cass refused to rule out Fiji as a potential host in 2023.
“We were really hopeful of getting a tournament in Fiji in 2021,” he said. “There’s a hell of a lot of infrastructure for a tournament of this type and, for next year, it’s just not going to be possible.
“We’re not giving up though. We’re really keen, as are the Fijians, to take a tournament to Fiji and we remain really hopeful that we can do that in 2023.”
Taking a tournament to Fiji, who have been crowned World Series champions four times and are reigning Olympic gold medallists, excites Derenalagi.
He said the opportunity to play in front of his loved ones would be significant for both him and his teammates.
“It would be a big boost for our team,” Derenalagi told RugbyPass. “To play in front of our loved ones – especially our family, our kids – to show them… when [he and his teammates] are missing from home, this is what they always do around overseas, but they can show it here back at home.”
A passionate Fijian crowd would undoubtedly be eager to see Derenalagi and his teammates strut their stuff on home soil, especially if they were to replicate the form that made them 2018-19 World Series champions.
Although that was Derenalagi’s debut campaign with the national side, he proved to be a standout performer for Fiji in their run to the title – so much so that he was crowned World Rugby Sevens Series 2019 Rookie of the Year.
The youngster’s meteoric rise continued this year when, at the age of just 21, he was named co-captain alongside veteran star Jerry Tuwai ahead of this year’s Hamilton Sevens.
The Wallabies boss has called the incoming Reds star to reassure his future following reports of the Melbourne Storm's eagerness to keep him in the NRL.https://t.co/4sbW4QCBQ9
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) June 15, 2020
Together, the duo helped guide Fiji to a maiden Sydney Sevens title in February, but the coronavirus-enforced disruption to the season has left the side stranded in third spot on the overall standings with four tournaments to play.
The postponement of the Singapore and Hong Kong events from April to October leaves those tournaments as the final two of the 2019-20 season, with the London and Paris legs rescheduled to take place in September.
With 83 points to their name, Fiji trail series leaders New Zealand by 32 points heading into the last four tournaments, but Derenalagi isn’t getting ahead of himself just yet.
“For us, we’ll just take one step at a time,” he said. “We are just looking forward to getting back on track. We have to wait for this lockdown to be uplifted, and then we can start training again with the brothers, and maintain our focus again.
“[It is] quite a bit challenging for us. [We’re] in third place at the moment, with four tournaments left for us, so we are working hard to get back on track and try to put ourselves in competition to compete for first spot.”
The London, Paris, Singapore and Hong Kong events haven’t been the only major sevens tournaments to have fallen victim to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The year-long postponement of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics has thrown a spanner in the works as Fiji prepare to defend their gold medal.
With the men’s sevens tournament now set to take place next July, Derenalagi has some time to weigh up his options beyond next year.
The lure of chasing a Sevens World Cup and Commonwealth Games gold medal the year after the Olympics could keep him in the seven-a-side game, but it would be unsurprising if he attracted interest from professional clubs abroad before then.
As always, however, Derenalagi remains firmly focused on the task at hand.
“My main focus now is on the Olympics. After the Olympics, I will make up my mind whether to move or stay put.”
2019-20 World Rugby Sevens Series events
September (Dates TBC) – London Sevens
September (Dates TBC) – Paris Sevens
10-11 October – Singapore Sevens
16-18 October – Hong Kong Sevens
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