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Gareth Baber must deliver success for Fiji after Ryan’s golden glory

By Steffan Thomas

GARETH Baber is a man under pressure as he counts down the days to the Rugby World Cup Sevens.

The Welshman succeeded Ben Ryan as coach of rugby-mad Fiji in 2016 and has had the San Francisco date firmly etched in his diary ever since.

Fiji came to a standstill when Ryan’s team carried off the inaugural Olympic Sevens title two years ago and their success saw the celebrations go on for days with Ryan gifted land and a chieftain’s status. Now the nation expects Baber to deliver.

“The pressure to perform is there all the time for the Fiji team. The Press and the public demand wins and it’s tough sometimes,” said Baber.

“Rugby is the lifeblood of every village in Fiji and Sevens is the lifeblood of the nation. You just have to tour around to see all the kids playing Sevens before school, after school, and in school.

“You can see how much it means to Fiji to be involved in Sevens and at the top of the game. I wasn’t used to that and it took some getting used to.”

Fiji won silver at the Commonwealth Games this year and five of the 10 events on the World Series to finish second overall to South Africa.

After winning only one tournament in his first year in charge, Baber has begun to feel more secure in his surroundings in the past 12 months. He knows he must deliver in the USA.

“I’m here long term, but I’m a coach and you’re beholden to results,” Baber admitted.

Pressure: Fiji coach Gareth Baber (photo: Getty Images)

On paper, Fiji remain the team to beat.

“We know our squad can play with speed and intensity and bringing in the European players allows us to add extra physical strength and power to the group,” said Baber.

“I’ve seen Semi (Radradra), Semi (Kunatani) and Josua handle the six-game, two- day tournaments quite well and we will see where Leone is at after a huge 35 games of 15s.

“Power can be difficult to handle and his presence around the park will be something different we can add to our game for this tournament.

“We’ve shown this year we have the ability to win games one after the other which is vital in the no-pool, knock-out tournament.”

Fiji squad for the 2018 Sevens Rugby World Cup in San Francisco:

Alosio Naduva, Amenoni Nasilasila, Jasa Veremalua, Jerry Tuwai (captain), Josua Tuisova, Kalioni Nasoko, Leone Nakarawa, Paula Dranisinikula, Sevuloni Mocenacagi, Semi Kunatani, Semi Radradra, Vatemo Ravouvou.

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