Fri, 30 March 2018

Fiji Aiming For Four in Row at Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2018

Fiji have announced they are coming for the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens with one mission in mind – capturing a record fourth straight title at the showcase event of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series.

 With other teams keeping a watching eye on the Commonwealth Games immediately after Hong Kong, Fiji coach Gareth Baber says that Hong Kong is too important to ignore.

“If you win Hong Kong, you’re a national hero,” said Baber of the reaction in the Islands when their team wins the Sevens.

The Fijians have made the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens their personal domain down through the years, winning the event a record 17 times and turning the Hong Kong Stadium into a home away from home.

Fiji were once again victorious in Hong Kong in 2017. Click to enlarge.

With Fiji coming off three successive wins, 2018 presents an opportunity to set another indelible milestone in the history of the Hong Kong Sevens as they bid to become the first nation to win four successive cups here.

The signature Hong Kong event comes right before Fiji’s attention will quickly have to turn to the Commonwealth Games - to be staged on Australia’s Gold Coast from 13-15 April, and Baber said his plans had all along been to target victory at both events, rather than focus on one.

“There’s a big passion here for taking on the massive challenge that Hong Kong presents, and it will be the same with the Commonwealth Games,” said Baber.

“Both are attainable for us,” Baber added, noting that his side’s wins this season, in New Zealand and Vancouver, have both come on the second legs of international swings.

Fiji are one of the very best teams in the world, and they often play as if they have an eighth player on the pitch. Click to enlarge.

Fiji will return for this year’s edition - to be staged across the weekend of 6 to 8 April, sitting in second position in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series standings on 101 points.

That leaves them hot on the heels of series leaders South Africa (109 points). South Africa are the defending gold medalists at the Commonwealth Games and have already announced the sending of their Academy squad to Hong Kong to allow for their Series side to rest-up for the medal defence in Australia.

While the field looks more open than usual, the Fijians have been handed a dangerous draw in Pool A in Hong Kong, pitting them against fierce rivals New Zealand in the early stages, along with Russia and Samoa, but Baber said his squad knew what lay ahead at a tournament that the players, and the nation, value more than any other.

Last year saw Baber lead the Fijians to victory at the Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens for the very first time – having previously spent three years coaching Hong Kong.

The Welshman said nothing could have properly prepared him for the feeling of watching his team rise to the occasion in their barnstorming 22-0 victory over South Africa.

Despite being such a small Pacific Island nation, Fiji always has strong vocal and passionate support at the Hong Kong Sevens. Click to enlarge.

“You go into the training rooms and it’s dark, and there’s no one else around, and then you go out into the Stadium and there are more photos being taken than you’ve ever seen,” said Baber.

 “It was the best rugby we played all season,” Baber reminisced. “But that’s what Fijians do – they rise to the occasion.”

Baber and Fijians around the world will be hoping that they do so again in Hong Kong, and a week later, as they look to add a first ever Commonwealth Games sevens gold to their Rio 2016 title.

Baber has announced a preliminary squad of 16 players for the tour to Hong Kong, including the 13 players named to the squad for the Commonwealth Games

“It is important to take the 16 to Hong Kong so that we can prepare them for both tournaments. I have every intention of selecting the best team for the Hong Kong 7s and ensuring that we defend our title successfully.

“Our first task is to tackle the Hong Kong Sevens first before we travel to the Commonwealth Games to battle it out for the gold medal,” Baber told the Fiji Sun.

Fiji Extended Sevens Squad

Semi Kunatani, Jasa Veremalua, Josua Vakurinabili, Paula Dranisinukula, Kalione Nasoko, Jerry Tuwai (captain), Vatemo Ravouvou, Amenoni Nasilasila, Sevuloni Mocenacagai, Mesulame Kunavula, Eroni Sau, Alasio Naduva, Samisoni Virivir, Isake Katonibau, Apenisa Cakaubalavu, Waisea Nacuqu.

Rugby pictures: Pictures from 2018 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, Pictures from 2017 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, Pictures from 2016 Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens, Pictures of Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2015, Pictures of the Asia Rugby Sevens Olympic Games Qualifier in Hong Kong, Pictures of Singha Thailand Sevens 2015, Pictures from the 2013 British & Irish Lions Tour in Hong Kong, Pictures of Hong Kong Sevens 2014, Pictures of Hong Kong Sevens 2013, Pictures of Chartis Cup 2012 and Pictures of Cathay Pacific / HSBC Hong Kong Sevens 2012.

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