Gareth Baber has admitted the loss of the Hong Kong and Singapore legs of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series due to the threat of coronavirus will make it difficult to include the French-based pair of gold medal winner Josua Tuisova (Lyon) and Semi Radradra (Bordeaux) for Fiji’s Olympic Games title defence in Tokyo (July 27-Aug 1)
The Hong Kong and Singapore sevens were due to be played in April but will now take place in October after the Games, leaving Fijian coach Baber to accept gaining release of these two world-class players from their clubs will be tougher as his squad attempt to fill the gaps in the sevens calendar by arranging smaller tournaments, involving teams such as New Zealand, Australia and Samoa.
Those countries also recognise the need to keep their players in competition mode despite the loss of two of the most important legs of the sevens series. Fiji are currently preparing to depart next Saturday for the February 29 Los Angeles leg of the series which is then followed by Vancouver on March 7. The Hong Kong and Singapore legs were then next up on the calendar.
Those high profile sevens events would have helped convince the French clubs of the importance of releasing Tuisova and Radradra, but Baber accepts whatever alternative tournaments are arranged may not help his case.
Facing just four legs of the series before the Olympic Games instead of six, Baber told RugbyPass: “It’s still possible but that window (to bring them back) is getting smaller because Hong Kong and Singapore were two of the tournaments we were targeting to bring players back.
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“When you’re speaking to European clubs, the profile of those legs and the logic of why you would do that trumps going to a mini tournament in the southern hemisphere or a camp in Japan.
“I coached in Europe and understand the pressures the clubs are under but we are preparing to move into an Olympic period and having those players with us, flying with us and bedding them in is put under the microscope at a tournament like Hong Kong. That is where you make the most gains and while it’s not impossible, that window is reduced.”
Fiji’s win at the Sydney Sevens helped deflect some of the criticism that had been aimed Baber’s way after a slow start to the defence of their World Series title. They head to Los Angeles in fifth place, 23 points behind leaders New Zealand.
“There has been criticism and I understand that,” added Baber. “The core of this team has been developed over the last two years and there are going to be times when hand grenades are rolled at you and bombs go off and you have to deal with it and move on. It makes you stronger as a group.
“We need to replicate what happened in Sydney for the remaining tournaments and training camps. I have to stay rational about it and I do understand the hysteria around it. Every team will be in the same situation after the decision to delay Hong Kong and Singapore and you have to look at ways of how to replicate those tournaments or that level of competition.
“We are looking at the logistics of arranging alternative events on the same weekends as Hong Kong and Singapore. Four or five teams are only three or four hours away from each other but there is planning, logistics and costs that have to be looked at.
‘The majority of Fiji’s players are in French rugby already and it won’t be too difficult to perform’
– @chrisjonespress sounds out Alex King on how potentially successful @fijirugby could be at @France2023 with Vern Cotter soon calling the shots https://t.co/BCEBzlhriq
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) January 30, 2020
“We are also investigating the possibility of going up to Japan to have some time in a training camp and potentially visit the sites for the Tokyo Olympic Games which is only four or five months away.
“It would get the players used to being in that environment. Ideally, that is what we would like to do and in this situation, you have to be flexible and make decisions on the run. Teams are looking at ways they can continue their development towards the Olympics.
“We also have a World Series to play in and the next leg is in Los Angeles and as a management, we have to make sure that everything stays on track.”
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