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Fiji include 4 uncapped players, confirm temporary coaching revamp

By Liam Heagney

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Fiji have unveiled a 28-strong squad of northern hemisphere-based players for next month’s Test matches versus Spain, Wales and Georgia, while also confirming that boss Vern Cotter and his assistants won’t be involved due to travel restrictions. Instead, Gareth Baber, who will soon coach at Edinburgh having stepped down as Fiji 7s boss, will take charge of a revamped coaching set-up that includes ex-Ireland skipper Rory Best and Scottish pair Duncan Hodge and Richie Gray. 

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Best will be tasked with coaching the forwards while Hodge and Gray will oversee the backs and ruck/contact area respectively. Fihi CEO John O’Connor explained: “We could have made arrangements for management and players to travel to for the northern tour but we were not able to guarantee their return with the unavailability of MIQ spots in Australia and New Zealand.

“We could not take the risk of players and staff being stuck in the northern hemisphere in 2022 and we made the decision not to use anyone from the southern hemisphere for the tour. Since we are not engaging our coaches, management and players from the southern hemisphere, we have had no option but to look at alternative arrangements in the northern hemisphere.

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“It was a natural selection with Gereth Baber,” continued the Fiji CEO. “He obviously has five years of experience working with the Fijian 7s team, managing high profile players and putting in a plan for the international competition and achieving positive results. While we understand it will be a challenge for Gareth, we believe he will gel well with the Fijian players as they prepare for the three Tests. 

“We are thankful that Gareth took on the challenge. His involvement as the head coach will be the final curtain of his five-year involvement with Fiji rugby prior to moving to his new appointment.”

Baber has been given the responsibility to lead the Fiji pack as head coach, ex-Scottish and current Edinburgh attack coach Duncan Hodge will be in charge of the backs, skills coach of the Seattle Seawolves and former Irish hooker Rory Best will look after the forwards, and former Springboks and Scotland coach Richie Gray, who was with Flying Fijians during the Autumn Nations Cup last year, will oversee the ruck and contact area.

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The team, meanwhile, consists of experienced players who have been playing competitive rugby in the French Top 14, PRO D2, England’s Premiership and the United Rugby Championship in Wales. However, there is no place for Nemani Nadolo, the winger who has been lighting up the Premiership in recent weeks with Leicester.

High-performance general manager Simon Raiwalui explained: “It’s a smaller squad than normal. “Normally we would travel with 32 players but due to shortage in positions, we have got a group of 28 players who will have cover in majority of the areas. There are a couple of areas where will have a shortage of players such as loosehead, hooker and half-back. We don’t have depth in these positions in the northern hemisphere.

“We have got three new players coming in from the Fijian 7s environment and the Olympic Gold medalists who have gone up north, Vilimoni Botitu, Aminiasi Tuimaba and Jiuta Wainiqolo. It’s a strong and exciting squad and we are looking forward to the challenge.”

The squad assembles on October 31 to start preparations to face Spain on November 6 in Madrid. They then face Wales on November 14 before wrapping up the tour versus Georgia at a venue and time that is yet to be confirmed.

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FIJI SQUAD 
Loosehead: Peni Ravai, Eroni Mawi
Hooker: Samuel Matavesi, Peniami Narisia
Tighthead: Luke Tagi, Mesake Doge, Leeroy Atalifo
Lock: Tevita Ratuva, Temo Mayanavanua, Albert Tuisue, Leone Nakarawa
Back row/lock: Peceli Yato, Johnny Dyer
Back row: Masivesi Dakuwaqa (uncapped), Mesulame Kunavula, Bill Mata
Scrum-half: Frank Lomani, Nikola Matawalu
Fly-half: Ben Volavola
Centre/Fly-half: Vilimoni Botitu (uncapped)
Centre: Levani Botia, Eneriko Buliruarua
Centre/Wing: Waisea Nayacalevu, Josua Tuisova
Wing: Eroni Sau, Aminiasi Tuimaba (uncapped), Jiuta Wainiqolo (uncapped)
Wing/Full-back: Seta Tuicuvu

MANAGEMENT:
Gareth Baber – head coach
Duncan Hodge – assistant coach
Rory Best – assistant coach
Richie Gray – assistant coach

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Fiji include 4 uncapped players, confirm temporary coaching revamp

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