Baber to coach Fiji 15s on northern hemisphere tour
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Outgoing sevens coach Gareth Baber will guide a Fiji 15s squad composed entirely of Europe-based players on its tour to Britain and Europe next month.
Baber will be assisted by former Ireland hooker and captain Rory Best, former Scotland flyhalf Duncan Hodge and Scotland-based Richie Gray in an all-British coaching team.
Fiji Rugby chief executive John O’Connor said because of the challenges associated with international travel and quarantine restrictions, selectors decided not to include any southern hemisphere-based players for the tour which involves matches against Spain, Wales and Georgia.
Fiji Rugby also has decided that Fiji head coach Vern Cotter and his New Zealand-based assistants will not take part in the tour.
“We were not able to guarantee their return with the unavailability of (managed isolation and quarantine) spots in Australia and New Zealand,” O’Connor said. “We could not take the risk of players and staff being stuck in the northern hemisphere in 2022.”
O’Connor said Baber, who helped the Fiji men’s sevens team defend their Olympic gold medal at Tokyo in late July, became a “natural selection” when a northern hemisphere-based head coach was needed.
“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,” O’Connor said.
Baber was perfectly situated to become a short-term replacement as head coach. The Wales-based coach stepped down as Fiji sevens coach last week.
Fiji Rugby sought to renew his contract for the sevens program but Baber said after his success in the shorter format he wanted to challenge himself in traditional 15s. The opportunity to do so has come earlier than expected.
“Working with the Flying Fijians is a fantastic challenge in a very unique situation,” Baber said. “With the logistical difficulties for Vern Cotter and his staff preventing their travel it falls to me to combine this unbelievable playing talent and expertise of the support staff into a winning formula in such a short space of time.”
Fiji on Tuesday named a 28-man squad for the tour, chosen from players competing in France’s Top 14 competition, the English Premiership and in other British and European tournaments.
“It’s a smaller squad than normal,” Fiji high performance manager Simon Raiwalui said. “Normally we would travel with 32 players but due to a shortage in positions we have got a group of 28 players who will have cover in majority of the areas.”
He said there may be shortages of backup at loosehead prop, hooker and scrumhalf.
“We don’t have depth in these positions in the northern hemisphere and we would have brought in players from the southern hemisphere to fill in,” he said, “but we have (still) selected a great team.”
The squad comprises 16 forwards and 12 backs and includes Olympic sevens gold medalists Vilimoni Botitu, Aminiasi Tuimaba and Jiuta Wainiqolo.
Fiji squad: Forwards, Peni Ravai, Eroni Mawi, Samuel Matavesi, Peniami Narisia, Luke Tagi, Mesake Doge, Leeroy Atalifo, Tevita Ratuva, Temo Mayanavanua, Albert Tuisue, Leone Nakarawa, Peceli Yato, Johnny Dyer, Masivesi Dakuwaqa, Mesulame Kunavula, Bill Mata; Backs, Frank Lomani, Nikola Matawalu, Ben Volavola, Vilimoni Botitu, Levani Botia, Eneriko Buliruarua, Waisea Nayacalevu, Josua Tuisova, Eroni Sau, Aminiasi Tuimaba, Jiuta Wainiqolo, Seta Tuicuvu.
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