Fiji men's sevens coach Ben Ryan delivers his verdict on what lies in store at Rio 2016.
Rio is at our door. Some teams are there and others are putting their final touches to their preparation before they enter the village. For us, that’s a joint men’s and women’s camp in Santiago before coming into the athlete’s accommodation the day before the opening ceremony. The men’s side will attend that and proudly be walking behind the nation’s flag bearer – our captain and most capped Fijian sevens player of all time – Osea Kolinisau.
I have said for a few years now that the Olympics will be a tipping point moment for the sport. There are a ton of reasons for this that I will not bother regurgitating now – the broadsheets and websites have hit that one hard. One thing we won’t be short of is drama.
All the teams look primed and ready. Across the board fitness test personal bests are being broken as all 12 teams aim to peak. Plans have been hatched on how best to cope with all that comes with Olympic competition. The format is a different one to what we are used to but it’s still six games over three days. You only really get this amount of time before a tournament at the start of the series and it’s a great challenge to get these two months or so right. To peak but not over train. To get the mix of what you do right. We have done well in those opening legs of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series, winning the first ones on the Gold Coast and Dubai in the last two years.
Three-day tournaments also seem to bring success for us, winning four of the last five and reaching the final in the fifth. The statistics show that we understand what is needed to get the team right when we have a decent time frame to prepare in. However, saying that, I think all the teams will be very close to each other in terms of overall fitness. Our squad average weight is 100kg so we have to be careful with work-loads but the sand dunes, beaches and Pacific Ocean around Fiji have helped with that and given us good variation. When I see 121kgs of Leone Nakarawa almost hit level 21 in the yoyo test, I know the prep has gone well.
It is fair to say, Fiji is close to meltdown with Rio fever. It is always an obsession on the island to follow the team but has gone to a new level with the Olympics. Hundreds have lined the training pitch to watch us. We aren’t protective over that. The people’s team cannot shy away from that connection. It has risen the level of competition on the training paddock even higher and the 17 inter-squad games we had were scrutinised across all the villages and towns. I could sense the boys were mentally drained after that intense period leading up to selection and we had a light week following that before ramping it up again in Chile.
Some quite outstanding rugby players were left out of the squad. It was a major ‘work on’ for me when I came to Fiji to get as much depth as we could across all the positions. We were three deep in quality going into that final selection week and any success we have in Rio, this depth we have created will have been a major reason for that.
Finally, I have been genuinely excited by seeing all the other nation’s enthusiasm. Seeing all the player’s and team’s pictures and stories on social media and beyond is awesome. So many fantastic stories. Rugby sevens has some quite sensational sports men and women and deserves to be going to the greatest sporting event on the planet. I also have a feeling one of the success stories of these Rio 2016 Olympic Games will be this sport hatched in the civil parish of Melrose in the Scottish borders. Expect exhilaration. Expect theatre. Expect history