30 Nov 2016

Sport: Fiji to begin World 7s Series title defence

From , 4:00 pm on 30 November 2016

Four months on from their gold medal winning efforts in Rio, Fiji are hoping to pick up where they left off on the World Sevens Series.

The new season kicks off in Dubai this week, with the Fiji men bidding for a third consecutive series crown.

Meanwhile Samoa are targeting consistency and the Fijiana women's team want a spot among the sevens elite.

Vinnie Wylie reports.

Fiji Sevens captain Osea Kolinisau is among six returning Olympic champions

Fiji Sevens captain Osea Kolinisau is among six returning Olympic champions Photo: World Rugby / Martin Seras Lima

A lot has changed since Fiji won sevens gold in Brazil. Coach Ben Ryan has gone. A few players have too, while Ryan's replacement, Gareth Baber, won't officially take charge until the new year. But captain Osea Kolinisau is among six returning Olympic champions and interim coach, Naca Cawanibuka, says the expectations remain the same.

"Obviously the results of the last two years is there but it's been there for a long long time really - the pressure has always been on Fiji to perform and these boys they relish the pressure and it's why we play the game you know. It's good, it gets the best out of the players and I believe when there's pressure that's when they actually play well, so it's one of those things we just have to face up to."

It's been a tumultuous off-season for Samoa, who sacked coach Damian McGrath after the team failed to qualify for the Olympics. The Englishman is suing the SRU for wrongful dismissal and has since been appointed coach of the Canadian men's team. Longtime New Zealand sevens coach Sir Gordon Tietjens was named as his replacement with the Manu but doesn't officially start the job until January. Despite that he is with the team in Dubai and assistant coach Stephen Betham, who led the Manu to the 2010 World Series title, says the goals for the upcoming season are clear.

"First and foremost is to improve the ranking, which is ninth place overall last year, and to do that we looked at trying to make the quarter finals consistently and I think that's a word we've focused on is being consistent. That is our aim is to make that top eight consistently for the next ten tournaments."

The women's series takes to the field first on Thursday, with Fiji up against France, New Zealand and Ireland in Pool B. The Fijiana finished eighth in each of the past two seasons and also made the quarter finals in Rio. Head coach Iliesa Tanivula says the team wants to take the next step and be competing for Cup honours.

"It's something we've set down as a squad and spoke about at the beginning of this season..one of the things was our attitude coming into training and attitude on and off the field. It's something I've seen the girls change and diet and training is a lot more intensive training and the girls are adapting well. For us it's a matter of getting the little things right: our training, our diet and trying to compete with the world's best. We've finished the last two series in eighth and hopefully this time our aim is to make the top four."

The men's competiton starts on Friday, with Fiji's first match against Canada before Samoa take on England.