Oceania Sevens gives Ryan baptism of fire

(IRB.COM) Thursday 3 October 2013
 Oceania Sevens gives Ryan baptism of fire
Flying start: Ben Ryan will be watching Ilai Tinai and his Fiji teammates in the Oceania Sevens this weekend

You might forgive Ben Ryan a wry smile, or for thinking that there was probabaly an easier, more low-key start to his time as the new coach of Fiji's men's Sevens team.

Maybe a trip to Australia or Dubai. Anywhere, in fact, a little further away from the intense scrutiny of Fiji's rugby-loving public.

But it's perhaps fitting that this great admirer of Fijian rugby will tackle his new and mammouth challenge head-on over the next week at the Fiji Water Centennial Sevens, which doubles as the Oceania men's Sevens championship.

Nothing gets the blood flowing like playing for the region's bragging rights against Samoa and Australia as well as Cook Islands, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, American Samoa and Tuvalu.

Fiji will still be coached by Alifereti Dere this weekend while Ryan observes, but the players are understood to be keenly applying themselves to the task of getting as fit as possible for the new boss. The big question is how the Englishman thinks he can convert all of that magical potential into regional and world dominance.

"It's a bit like Brazil and football (soccer), it's the Fijian way of playing the game that just excites you so much and I certainly won't be looking to change that overall philosophy that overarches how they play the game in the islands," Ryan said.

"But I think I can add some professionalism. I can help them with one or two things on the field that will mean that they can leak less points and score more points at the other end."

Ryan is sure to receive and accept help in Fiji - especially at first - and neither is he setting off from a standing start. As well as having lined up against them numerous times in competition, he feels a strong empathy through working with players on the invitational circuit and also with England in the case of Josh Drauniniu and Isoa Damu, whom he singles out as the finest player he has ever worked with in either Sevens or 15s.

"They have an amazing array of talent in the islands and it's just making sure now that the foundations are stable and stronger, and that everyone is aligned, because there's no doubt that the sporting world could get inspired by the Fiji Sevens team over the next few years towards the Rio Olympics.

"A medal has never been won in the Olympics by a Fijian athlete and here you've got, in the men's and women's, serious contenders for the gold medal and it's an incredibly exciting time to be involved in the Fijian game."

It is unclear how much input Ryan has had in naming the side for the Oceania Sevens this weekend, but going forward selecting the right 12 players will be one of his biggest challenges.

"It's a challenge because you have to have your philosophy in line with everyone elses, so selectors, coaches, management, they need to know what type of players that you want and that then drives your selection and your pathways and your age grade teams.

"There are some outstanding individual tournaments that already exist in Fiji and putting those together and having a national Series would certainly help a lot with getting the best players on the field, and making sure it's professional: making sure that salaries are paid and players undertstand exactly what is needed from them to be the best players and the best team in international Sevens."

Fiji team for the Oceania Sevens: Ulaiasi Lawavou, Manueli Lagai (capt), Jiuta Takubu, Samuela Saqiwa, Sakiusa Nadruku, Kelepi Namoua, Vucago Bainitabua, Ilai Tinai, Donasio Ratubuli, Benito Masilevu, Samisoni Viriviri, Sunia Kubu

Seb Lauzier was talking with Ben Ryan for episode one of IRB Sevens World, which is now airing around the world - check TV listings. Seb interviews the teams for TV after every match of the HSBC Sevens World Series. Follow him and tweet your questions @seblauzier

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