Former captain Kalione Nasoko will undergo knee surgery in Australia to ensure he can help Fiji defend their Olympic Sevens gold medal in Japan next year as part of head coach Gareth Baber’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series title winning squad.
Nasoko suffered the knee injury during the successful World Series campaign and medical tests in Scotland revealed the extent of the ACL damage, forcing Edinburgh to shelve plans to add the explosive wing to their Pro14 squad.
Nasoko was sent home to sort out the injury and Baber has confirmed to RugbyPass the operation will take place in Australia and then his former captain will start the rehabilitation process to ensure his skills can be added to an already powerful squad featuring a number of new faces, including Meli Derenalagi, the Rookie of the Year and Vilimoni Botitu the DHL Impact Player.
Baber said: “There is a desire and demand for another gold medal in Fiji and I have felt that very strongly from the moment I took on the job. It was understood that I had to emulate what had been achieved before me and 12 months out from the 2020 Games we are in a good place.
“Kali failed a medical and has returned to our care and will have an operation in Australia in the next week or so and I very much see the door being open for him to rehab and be in a position to be in the squad. He has shown his pedigree in the way he has led the team and performed and while I am sad it has hasn’t worked out for him at Edinburgh, we could be getting back early next year one of the best sevens players in the World. That is a massive boost for us and we are going to pray for his rehab.”
Baber and his victorious squad will arrive at Nadi International Airport on Wednesday from Paris, where Prime Minister Voreqe Bainimarama will welcome them at the traditional ceremony at Nawaka Village in Nadi. Numerous other villages are asking to stage events to recognise the achievements of the team and local players in the squad while Baber also has a family party at the end of the week in Fiji to mark his daughter’s 18th birthday.
Baber acknowledges the need to enjoy this week and then start to prepare for the defence of title next year and, most importantly, retaining the Olympic Games gold medal in Tokyo. The head coach is being lauded in Fiji for winning a fourth World title after five tournament wins this season and the success will silence his critics who had questioned the team’s playing style during a season of injury set-backs and off-the-field problems.
Baber revealed the Fiji squad and management have been working with a mental skills coach to help deal with the pressure and expectation and said: “Every coach has to deal with different things during the year and some of them could have been disruptive but we have employed a mental skills coach to develop a robustness and resilience to be able to surmount issues. It’s about not letting those become a problem and for me, some of the obstacles I have dealt with have taught me a lot and as a group we have learnt how to stay focused.
“Players are human beings and there is going to be some scepticism and we have talked as a group about being open to change. I have been pleased with the players response, as we saw in the London and Paris legs, where we needed to kill off tournaments.
“Twelve months ago in Paris we were in a similar position to win the title and didn’t do it and in those intervening months we have got it right in terms of self-awareness and understanding of performance. What surprised me about the young players who came into the squad wasn’t the talent they had, it was the consistency they showed over a long period of time. As young men you are prone to dips in form and distractions but they stood up.
“There were will be distractions over the next year and I know what to look for and agents are, all year, looking at our players and it can be a factor. However, the players will get increased contracts from the Union in an Olympic year to try and take some of the that pressure off. You would hope some clubs would honour a contract that kicked in after the Olympics and it is something we are looking at, but money talks.”
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