Fiji hopes to end 20-year French drought as title hopes disappear. And keep seven players on the field.
The Vodafone Fiji 7s team heads into the penultimate round of the 2016/17 HSBC World Sevens Series hoping to conquer the elusive Paris 7s title.
The Fijians won the first two Paris tournaments, then known as the Air France Sevens, in 1996 and 1997.
After the French leg had been added to the World Sevens roster in 2000, Fiji reached the Cup final twice; losing to France in 2005 (19-28) and Samoa in 2016 (26-29). The sevens series did not feature any French events between 2001-2003 and 2007-2015.
2016/17 World Sevens Series
South Africa have virtually sealed the series title, only their second since winning the 2008/9 version. The Blitzbokke currently lead with 157 points followed by Fiji on 132.
This means that South Africa only needs 19 points from the next two tournaments to put the series out of reach of the Fijians.
A quarter-final spot guarantees 10 points irrespective of the result, but South Africa would wrap up the series this weekend by reaching the Cup Final.
Fiji has to win both the Paris and London rounds of the series to have a moonshot at retaining the series title. While this is certainly achievable for the Olympic Gold medalists, the chances of South Africa having a meltdown in the pool stages in either tournament is narrow.
The Blitzbokke failed to reach the final for the first time this season last month, but the return of stars like Rosko Specman have them focussed and confident.
Indiscipline has stuck out like a sore thumb in the Fijian performance this season. Fiji has 20 yellow cards this season, leading Samoa (18) and New Zealand (17). The South Africans have only been binned six times in the season.
Kalione Nasoko has the most yellow cards (5), following by Kiwi Iopu Iopu (4) and Argentina’s Nicolas Menendez (4).
Only three players have been red carded this season; Argentina’s Menendez and Fiji’s Isake Katonibau and Sevuloni Mocenacagi.
Fiji head into the Paris 7s with their first season tournament win in Hong Kong before being dumped 19-24 in the quarter-final of the Singapore 7s. They were later beaten 14-19 by South Africa in the 5th place semi-final.
In Singapore, Fiji scored 146 in the tournament, second only to USA (165 points). Fiji scored 22 tries, behind USA (25) and Canada (22).
Waisea Nacuqu was the top points scorer of the tournament with 47 points.
Fijian coach Gareth Baber has named a strong squad for this weekend with the inclusion of three debutants; 27-year-old Army forward Paula Dranisinukula, 24-year-old Tabadamu rover Samu Bale, and 26-year-old Uluinakau Babas wing Glen Cakautini.
The team played a friendly match against the hosts, Virimi Vakatawa’s France, earlier this week.
Baber said they worked on areas their opponents would try to exploit to shut them down and said the players were doing well and excited about the tournament.
Fiji will play Samoa in their first pool game at 8.00 pm and Russia at 11.26 pm Saturday; The final pool match is against Australia at 3.14 am Sunday.
The Cup quarter-finals start at 8.28 pm Sunday, semi-finals at 12.18 am and final at 3.33 am on Monday.
Samoa is the defending champion in Paris, defeating Fiji 29-24 in the final last year. The Sir Gordon Tietjens coached-side would hope to start their defence on a winning note against Fiji.
The Vodafone Fiji Men’s Team squad:
- Osea Kolinisau
- Waisea Nacuqu
- Vatemo Ravouvou
- Jasa Veremalua
- Amenoni Nasilasila
- Jerry Tuwai
- Sevuloni Mocenacagi
- Setareki Bituniyata
- Kalione Nasoko
- Paula Dranisinukula
- Samu Bale
- Glen Cakautini