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Fiji's love of sevens

Joseph Veramu
Wednesday, April 18, 2018

With the Commonwealth Games rugby sevens competition exhaustingly behind us, we can now reflect on the wonders of the game and Fiji's obsessive love affair with it.

A bit of history

The world must thank two butchers, Ned Haig and David Sanderson, from Melrose, Scotland for conceiving the game in 1883.

Sevens is the fastest and best ball game ever devised.

One of its enduring qualities is that it is so deliciously unpredictable.

A struggling Fiji team playing Wales can change dramatically in the next game and call up added reserve of inner strength as seen in our semi-final game against South Africa.

In Fiji, rugby was introduced in the early 1900s by a New Zealand plumber, Paddy Sheehan, who worked at the then Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva.

He became the first chairman of the Fiji Rugby Union and established the Escott Shield.

While 15-a-side rugby was the dominant mode, its early introduction was the forerunner to the abbreviated sevens version that would explode in popularity in the 1970s.

In Fiji, rugby sevens is the only game that can bring sworn enemies peacefully together and make the most docile and quietest person become animated and aggressive in conversations!

While this article highlights the benefits of rugby sevens in Fiji, I have no doubt that many will absolutely disagree with some of my views and I think that is a good thing! (Even my use of the word "exhaustingly" in the first sentence can be the subject of endless debates after a gruelling energy sapping semi-final!)

Scots, rugby and kava

The Scotsman news outlet reports that Jo Nayacavou, who plays rugby sevens for Team Scotland, sees Scotland as a "second home" and his two children speak with Scottish accents.

What struck me about the article was the quote that, "For his part 'Big Joe' has the Scots getting accustomed to drinking kava. Fiji's 'national drink' is made from the roots of a plant, it looks and tastes like dishwater, albeit boasting some mild relaxing/numbing qualities."

For the Scots gifting the world and especially Fiji with the game of rugby sevens, at least we can say that we have reciprocated with kava offerings.

Most male children, youths and even baby boomers play rugby as an afternoon pastime.

That would involve upward of 400,000 people.

They usually share a bowl of kava afterwards as they exchange pleasantries.

I have even read in a British newspaper that some people see kava as a kind of aphrodisiac, although I have yet to experience its frisky qualities after a leisure game.

Unsung heroes

The unsung heroes of popularising the game of sevens in Fiji and the world have been the Chinese who developed the Hong Kong 7s competition into a global event.

To Fijians, winning in Hong Kong event is like winning the Rugby Sevens World Cup and we have won 18 times since 1977.

I have always admired the many Fijian spectators in the South Stand (recognised by their distinct blue wigs or the Fiji flag on their attire) who are unusually well-behaved while all around them spectators guzzle jugs of beer.

The Fijian, Samoan and New Zealand rugby unions should seriously consider working together to develop rugby skills among Chinese youths.

The Chinese have the makings of fast and agile rugby players with the appropriate coaching at the primary and high school levels.

'Like a religion'

CNN reports that rugby sevens is a sport that is embraced with near-religious fervour among Fiji's 900,000 people.

Former coach Ben Ryan said that "I can have an hour-long drive to work and I can see 50 villages playing rugby. It's a passion. It's the national sport."

Another local reporter quoted by CNN said that, "Rugby is like a religion in Fiji. It's normal that we go to church on Sundays, it's also normal that everywhere you turn, there are people playing rugby every afternoon. Whether it's with paper scrunched together to make a ball, with bottles or a real rugby ball, somebody in the neighbourhood is playing rugby."

Health benefits

It should not be a surprise that rugby is very popular and is almost akin to a religion in Fiji.

It enables players and the leisure-playing public to increase their upper body strength.

After all, strong arms are needed for tackling and winning balls in rucks, mauls and in fighting it out in scrums.

The game makes one agile in twisting and dodging as one moves towards the scoring line.

Of course, all this running is also very good for the heart.

For young people, the sport boosts self-confidence, develops positive self-discipline, reduces stress, builds resilience and improves mental conditions.

'Getting under the skins'

While the Bible verses imprinted on the Fijian players' wristbands and jumpers seek God's blessings, they also serve to regulate the behaviour of players on the field.

I admire that team that understands the Fijian psyche very well and that tolerance levels can be low when players are exhausted.

They have the talent for getting under the skins of Fijian players with their hassling gestures and demeanour.

To the Fijian player, there is almost a tsunami-type mental battle between good and evil as if the villain MBoku (in Black Panther) is waving the proverbial spear.

The feigned agony of the opposing player hoping the performance will result in a red card is all worthy of a Hollywood Oscar Award.

Games strategies

One thing I admire about the development of our Fiji rugby sevens team is the back-to-basics approach of very good defences, coupled with proactive attacking strategies.

Not winning gold in the Commonwealth Games can also be viewed positively as a way of relooking at our overall game strategies.

More importantly, it allows the global media to continue writing opinion pieces about how the urge to win the Commonwealth Games 7s gold makes us feel like Captain Ahab trying to get Moby-Dick — the white whale (the gold medal).

Publicity for sevens rugby, however unflattering and bordering on fiction, is still good for the sport.

Conclusion

In the age of complex technologies, the whole gamut of processes that make a sevens team successful must be kept simple for the players and public to understand rather than too complex.

There must be a fun element to the intense training and the tough games that are played.

While it is all very well to make players and the public think positively, losses are good for us in helping our players and the public take stock of our strengths and weaknesses and how best we can improve.

Our players are now getting ready for the Singapore 7s.

There is a never ending battle to continue to do our best.

I wish the players, the coaching staff and the Fiji rugby-loving public all the best.

Let us continue being crazy about rugby sevens because that is good for our players and the global sport of sevens.








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