Fiji 7s coach says captain's departure an "opportunity" for others

SUVA, 28 JULY 2017 (RNZI) --- Fiji sevens coach Gareth Baber said the departure of captain Osea Kolinisau presents an opportunity for other players to step up and make their mark in the national team.

The 31-year-old signed a multi-year contract to play for the Houston Strikers in the inaugural Major League Rugby competition in the United States.

Kolinisau debuted in Dubai in 2008 and captained Fiji to two World Series titles and the Olympic gold medal in Rio last year.

Gareth Baber said he had been kept in the loop about his skipper's plans.

"I'd spoken to Osea several times over the last year about where he was looking at for his future and he is at that stage of his career where obviously his value is important to him, in terms of creating a future for his family," he said.

"So for me it provides an opportunity for blooding new players, developing other leaders within the group and changing the dynamic of the group as well and pushing through for the next three years into Tokyo in 2020 so one door closes and another one opens."

Gareth Baber said the Fiji squad is in a transition phase after the loss of a handful of senior players over the past 12 months, with Kolinisau joining the likes of Samisoni Viriviri, Viliame Mata and Masivesi Dakuwaqa.

"You're losing an Olympic winner and obviously that experience that you've seen over the last few years but in terms of Fiji we wish him well," he said.

"It's the natural way of things for any sportsperson that you're looking for the next challenge in moving on. He's recently got married and I'm sure that everyone wishes him well in his new adventure in America.

"He's been good in imparting some of his knowledge and experience to some of the younger players that we have coming through here in Fiji and there is a change afoot," said the former Wales and Hong Kong sevens mentor.

"It's a natural progression from a team that was built to win an Olympics and what moves on in Fiji - it moves on pretty quickly as well - and the programme that we have here is to develop not just the players that are in the programme but players that will hopefully go into the next Olympics and Olympics following that as well.

"Osea has been a great servant for Fiji rugby but for me it's important now that we focus on what we need to do in the future, wish him best of luck and get on with what we need to do."

Gareth Baber said another two players from last year's World Series squad will not be returning next season, as cashed-up overseas clubs, particularly in France, offer contracts Fiji are unable to match.

"Setareki Bituniyata, he has gone to France. That's the only other one that's confirmed to go to France," he said.

"Joeli Lutumailagi I think has been offered a contract in France but that hasn't been confirmed yet, so there's two that won't be coming back (with) obviously Osea being the third."

He said a decision on who will inherit the Fiji captaincy will be made after the players go into camp in September.

"Some of the younger players who have shown leadership qualities are really putting their hands up: 1) for selection but 2) for those leadership positions within the group," he said.

"Anybody who's been involved with sevens knows that you need those leaders across the group - not just an individual.

"(I was) pleased to see someone like a Mesulame (Kunavula) who, in his first year on the HSBC Series, captained the team in a couple of games in France - so that was good.

"And you've got the likes of Jerry Tuwai and Vatemo Ravouvou who are good leaders, and Apisai Domolailai, so there's some good leadership still around the group and it's making sure you get that balance right and understand exactly what the players need to move themselves forward."...PACNEWS


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