Pacific / Fiji

Sport: Fiji, Samoa seeking improvement at Cape Town 7s

13:18 pm on 13 December 2019

The Fiji men's Sevens team is determined to bounce back from a horror start to the season when the World Series resumes in Cape Town on Friday, while Samoa is seeking to build on their best start in five years.

World Series champions Fiji failed to qualify for the Cup quarter-finals in Dubai for the first time in the 21-year history of the global circuit, following a shock loss to Argentina in pool play.

Fiji could only manage a ninth place finish in Dubai. Photo: Mike Lee - KLC fotos for World Rugby

Coach Gareth Baber acknowledged their ninth place finish was disappointing but said he expected a positive response this weekend.

"We've reviewed exactly why we feel we were not at the level that we needed to be and we've got to make sure that as we go through this week we're doing everything we possibly can to put that right and move in the direction of winning a tournament."

"Our ability to score tries hasn't left us. We've just got to get more ruthless and we've got to get tighter in terms of our defence and control games when we haven't got the ball which was a hold back of us last season."

Fiji also stumbled out of the blocks last season, finishing fifth in Dubai before returning to winning ways in Cape Town the following weekend, and Baber said the players know where they need to improve.

"Pretty similar situation to last season, we didn't react well in the first tournament," Baber reflected. "We were disappointing in a couple of key aspects mainly our defence and our retention of restart where we can create pressure.

"We know as a team as well that we let ourselves down in that first tournament and the challenge is to obviously win this one. It's something we did last year and something we're aiming for again."

Japan's Yusaku Kuwazuru goes head to head against Fiji's Sevuloni Mocenacagi on day one of the Dubai Sevens Photo: Mike Lee for World Rugby

It doesn't get any easier for the Olympic and World Series champions, who will begin the defence of their Cape Town title against the United States, who they defeated in last season's Cup final, before another blockbuster clash against hosts South Africa, who are fresh from winning in Dubai.

The Fijians will round out Pool A against Japan and Gareth Baber said there is no room for error.

"We didn't win four finals last weekend, we only won three and so we'll be looking to win six this weekend and we know that we've potentially got to play at that level to be able to win six finals to be able to get ourselves in a position we were to win at all," he said.

"We know how to win tournaments, we have a lot of perspective on that. We won the series last year and we've got an understanding of how that can go. Disappointing though, it's now a part of making sure that we get it right for this week."

The men's and women's World Series will feature in Cape Town for the first time in 2019. Photo: Mike Lee - KLC fotos for World Rugby

Samoa look to build on promising start

Samoa are also seeking to sharpen up on defence this weekend as they seek to build on their fourth place finish in Dubai.

The Manu Sevens were pipped by England in the playoff for third place after being outclassed 38-7 by eventual winners South Africa in the Cup semi finals.

Samoa's Alamanda Motuga tests the South African defence in Dubai. Photo: Mike Lee - KLC fotos for World Rugby

It capped an emotional week for coach Sir Gordon Tietjens and his team, who dedicated their performances to the victims of the measles epidemic which has effected so many back at home.

"It was a big challenge mentally, certainly for us in a real challenging week you know with what's happening back in Samoa, with a couple of my players also had little ones affected with the measles epidemic and we got up for it," he said.

"To come away with fourth position in our very first tournament was really pleasing but it doesn't get any easier from here because we've got certainly some big challenges this week in South Africa to back those performances up and there's no easy games whatsoever."

Samoa open their Cape Town campaign against Kenya, Ireland and Australia in Pool D and Tietjens said every game will be tough.

"They're a big team [Kenya], they love off-loading," he said.

"Then obviously our second game against Ireland who are one of the better teams of the series now, even though they're a new team in the World Series, and then of course we've got another game against Australia and they will be hurting from the loss in Dubai so we can expect some real tough games."


Samoa will resume their rivalry with Australia in Cape Town. Photo: Mike Lee - KLC fotos for World Rugby

While pleased with their efforts in Dubai last weekend, Sir Gordon said their defence still needed a lot of work.

"We leaked about 48 tackles over the weekend in Dubai and yet we still came away in fourth spot which is quite amazing really to leak so many tackles and yet still come out of it winning some big important games," he said.

"I'm a real believer in defence. If that's working for the team then attack takes care of itself."

Meanwhile, the team has received some good news from back home. Laaloi Leilua was forced to return to Samoa from Dubai to be with his month old daughter, who contracted the measles virus, but Sir Gordon said she has now been taken off the critical list.

"He's had some good news that his baby is on the improve, which is fantastic," said the long-time Sevens mentor.

"We've been in touch with him and I think he's just gone back to training this week. He's been supporting his wife and with their little one and because there was a lot of huge concerns right at the very beginning, when his little baby was diagnosed with measles.

"But he's had a lot of support from the team and we obviously flew him back, our thoughts were with him and they still are."

Samoa have kept the same 12-man line-up squad that featured in Dubai, with Kelvin Masoe retained as 13th man. Napolioni Ratu replaces Terio Tamani in the Fiji team, with Apenisa Cakaubalavu 13th man.

Meanwhile, Ana Mei comes into the Fiji women's squad in Cape Town, where they are grouped with New Zealand, South Africa and Russia.

Fiji's Tokasa Seniyasi in space during the Dubai Sevens. Photo: Mike Lee - KLC fotos for World Rugby