Baber makes the cut – Coaching transition from 7s to Flying Fijians for Welshman

Outgoing Fiji 7s head coach Gareth Baber during a team training session in the 2018 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. Picture: FIJI TIMES/FILE

Outgoing Fijian 7s coach Gareth Baber will earn his biggest break in 15s coaching after being named as the head coach of the Flying Fijians Northern Hemisphere Tour with a 28-member squad only made up of European’-based players.

Fiji Rugby Union made the decision because of the uncertainty to guarantee the Managed Isolation and Quarantine (MIQ) spots for the Southern Hemisphere coaching staff and players back into their countries.

As a result Flying Fijians head coach Vern Cotter and his set of assistant coaches who are based in New Zealand and likewise, the Southern Hemisphere-based players, will not be part of the November Tour this year.

The Flying Fijians are scheduled to play Spain, Wales and Georgia next month.

Fiji Rugby chief executive officer John O’Connor said they could have made arrangements for the management and players to travel to the Northern Tour, but they were not able to guarantee their return with uncertainty of MIQ spots in Australia and New Zealand.

“We can get them to Europe, but it is very difficult to find them MIQ spots when they return,” O’Connor said.

“So, we felt in terms of the welfare and safety that it was not right to ask them to proceed on the tour knowing very well that they could be stuck in Europe and not get back to their home country. With that consideration in mind we have made a decision that we will not be engaging the Southern Hemisphere coaching staff and players on the Northern Tour.”

O’Connor said as a result they had no option, but to look at alternative arrangements in the Northern Hemisphere.

“As such Olympic Games gold medal winning and outgoing Fijian 7s coach Gareth has been given the responsibility to lead the pack as head coach.”

Former Scottish and current Edinburgh attack coach Duncan Hodge will be in-charge of the backs whilst high performance skills coach of the Seattle Seawolves and former Irish hooker Rory Best will look after the forwards.

“Former Springboks and Scotland coach Richie Gray, who was with the Flying Fijians during the Autumn Nations Cup last year, will oversee the ruck and contact area.”

Meanwhile, Baber is thrilled to be given the opportunity to coach the Flying Fijians, but believes he needs to work hard to be able to match the standard.

He said working with the Flying Fijians was a fantastic challenge in a very unique situation.

“With the logistical difficulties for Vern and his staff preventing their travel, it falls to me to combine this unbelievable playing talent and expertise of the support staff into a winning formula in such a short space of time,”Baber said.

The Flying Fijians 2021 Northern Hemisphere coaching and management team: Gareth Baber (head coach), Duncan Hodge (assistant coach), Rory Best (assistant coach), Richie Gray (assistant coach), Dan Baugh (lead strength and conditioning), Thomas McArdle (strength and conditioning), Matt Lee (physio), Brian Downey (physio), Osian Griffiths (assistant physio), Matt Johnston (lead analyst), Josh Vuto (remote analyst), Clive Monkley (doctor), Chris Thomson (manager), Alifereti Vakacokovanua (assistant manager).

Flying Fijians 28-member squad: (loose head prop) Peni Ravai, Eroni Mawi; (hooker) Samuel Matavesi, Peniami Narisia, (tight head prop) Luke Tagi, Mesake Doge, Leeroy Atalifo, (locks) Tevita Ratuva, Temo Mayanavanua, Albert Tuisue, Leone Nakarawa, (backrow/lock) Peceli Yato, Johnny Dyer, (backrow) Masivesi Dakuwaqa, Mesulame Kunavula, Viliame Mata, (halfback) Frank Lomani, Nikola Matawalu; (flyhalf) Ben Volavola; (centre/flyhalf) Vilimoni Botitu, (centre) Levani Botia, Eneriko Buliruarua, (centre/wing) Waisea Nayacalevu, Josua Tuisova, (wing) Eroni Sau, Aminiasi Tuimaba, Jiuta Wainiqolo, (wing/fullback) Seta Tuicuvu.

Flying Fijians Test matches:
(November 7) Flying Fijians v Spain, (November 15) Flying Fijians v Wales; (November 20) Flying Fijians v Georgia.

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