Fiji Sevens star Meli Derenalagi insists he will not be cashing in on his new found fame as the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Rookie of the Year and wants to help Fiji win another Olympic gold medal in Japan next year.
Derenalagi was a key player as Fiji won the Sevens title in Paris last weekend and is currently being feted back in Fiji where the reigning Olympic champions received a rapturous reception. Keeping the current squad together will be a major task for head coach Gareth Baber who believes enhanced sevens contracts taking the players into the Games in Tokyo will help ward off big-spending clubs from Europe and Japan.
Despite his increased profile Derenalagi said, he has set his sights on next month’s Pacific Games in Samoa and the 2020 Olympics Games telling SUNsports: “My plan is to get into the Olympic team next year and defend the gold medal. It was a good experience to move from fifteens to sevens rugby and it was a bit hard but the boys motivated me to do great things.
“It’s a good year for me and the team and I never dreamt to win the award because it was a challenge for me being nominated along with two team-mates (Vilimoni) Botitu and (Aminiasi) Tuimaba. It was surprising when my name was called out. It was an emotional moment. The senior players set good examples showing us what to do both on and off the field. Jerry (Tuwai) was very motivational.”
Fiji sevens captain Paula Dranisnukula is also focussed on defending the gold medal won in Rio in 2016 and expects overseas based players to try for Olympic squad selection. He said: “We’ll wait for management to work out a plan for us. It will be a tough battle to fight for a spot in the team for the next series because we also have the Olympics. Some other big names especially those playing overseas will be knocking on the selection door as well.
“The important thing is that the whole of Fiji is happy. We are happy that the fans enjoyed watching our rugby in the last two weekends. We’ve been together as a team since the beginning of the year and it’s a young team so it is easy to handle them. They are well-behaved and most of them come from the disciplinary forces so it was easy to manage them.”
One French-based player, Setareki Bituniyata, has already made it clear he would like to play at the Olympics having just joined Brive who also boast Fiji Captain Dominiko Waqaniburotu.
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