Fiji are ‘team to beat’ in Rio, says rugby sevens coach

Fiji's Vatemo Ravouvou (R) on the way to victory against rivals New Zealand, winning 21-7 in the final of the Hong Kong Sevens, sending out a message at the same time ahead of the Olympics

Singapore (AFP) – Fiji are the “team to beat” at the Rio Olympics, coach Ben Ryan said Wednesday as he eyed sealing back-to-back victories in Singapore.

Ryan said the reigning world series champions had been buoyed by last week’s Hong Kong Sevens win, but he also warned against overconfidence.

Singapore is returning to the world series this week as the eighth of 10 stops this year — and with rugby’s return to the Olympics looming in August.

“We did want to go to the Olympic Games as number one seeds… and we’re happy with that favourites tag,” Ryan told AFP.

“I know the history of Olympic team sports often means that the number one team in the world going into that Olympic sport often doesn’t win but we still think we’re better off being number one than number two.

“We’ll put it out there that we will be the team to beat. Anyone that beats us will probably win the gold medal.”

Ryan said Fiji also took heart from their record in three-day tournaments — the Rio format — after winning four out four in the past two years.

“If another team suddenly smashes the next three tournaments then that might change things,” the Englishman said.

“But we’ve had four three-day tournaments, the same as Rio, in the last two years and Fiji has won every single one of them.”

Fiji beat rivals New Zealand 21-7 in Sunday’s Hong Kong final as they sent out a message before the Olympics and stretched their championship lead to five points.

“Confidence is high but we have to make sure we don’t get over-confident… I’m keeping the pressure on the boys this week,” Ryan said.

For Ryan and his men, an Olympic gold medal will have added significance given this year’s cyclone disaster in the nation of 900,000 people.

Fiji is still reeling from super cyclone Winston in February, which left 44 dead, 60,000 homeless and crippled infrastructure.

“We’ve had players that have lost their houses, families that have lost their businesses. It’s been a tough time, we now have food shortages and the cost of food has doubled,” he said.

“It’s tough and the boys will go back and do their bit and give their winnings to their families,” he added.

“An Olympic win will go beyond rugby. That will boost all our younger athletes to think that if those 12 players from their villages can go to the Olympic Games, then why can’t they do it in other sports?”


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