Fiji on the road to Tokyo 2020

Thu, 01 Dec 2016 11:56

SEVENS WORLD SERIES: Fiji start their campaign to win a third successive Sevens World Series title in Dubai on Friday, with one eye also on the defence of their Olympic gold medal in Tokyo in 2020.

The Pacific islanders won their first Olympic medal in Rio in August and will once again be favourites to take the overall honours in Dubai where they have twice been champions in the last three years.

However, they and traditional heavyweight rivals New Zealand enter the 10-round series in a state of flux.

Fiji's English coach Ben Ryan stepped down after the historic Olympic triumph to be replaced by Welshman Gareth Baber, who was previously in charge of Hong Kong.

"As a coach, this is an incredible opportunity to work with the present world and Olympic champions," said Baber.

"I want to strengthen my knowledge of the game and the competition level that Fiji operates at will provide that."

Jasa Veremalua will likely again be Fiji's star man. He was voted the tournament's Impact Player of the Year last time round after scoring 29 tries and putting in 116 crunching tackles.

Twelve-time champions New Zealand also have a new man at the helm after long-time coach Gordon Tietjens stepped down after 22 years in the hot-seat following his team's failure to win Olympic gold.

Tietjens guided New Zealand to 12 Sevens World Series titles, four Commonwealth gold medals and two Sevens World Cup crowns but was unable to repeat the magic in Rio.

Scott Waldrom and Tomasi Cama are the interim coaches, with Clark Laidlaw set to take over in June next year on a full-time basis.

Tietjens has since taken over as coach of Samoa, the 2009-10 series-winning team. Samoa won the Paris Sevens in May, their first Cup since Dubai in 2012.

South Africa, meanwhile, will be looking to forget their recent woes in the 15-man game with a morale-boosting run in Dubai.

They will look to 23-year-old Seabelo Senatla to illustrate his status as World Sevens Player of the Year.

He scored 66 tries in the 2016 series taking his total to 113 in the last two seasons.

Agence France-Presse

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