Fiji coach Ben Ryan is taking a big gamble having ex-League and NFL player Jarryd Hayne join the squad to prepare for the Olympic games in August.
It is it a gamble because of the temperament of the Fijian players.
This is both the reason why Ryan brought him in and it is also the reason why it could backfire.
To explain …
What Hayne can bring
Ryan has got this Fijian squad into the best condition (mentally and physically) that any team in the long, decorated history of the tiny islands.
Prior to his arrival, Fiji had only managed one World Series win. Under Ryan they now have 2 in a row.
The reason is that for all their wonderful abundance of talent, Fiji lacked consistency. The only consistency they’ve had has been getting themselves up for Hong Kong – the tournament that all Fijians revere as their World Cup final.
Outside of that, there was no record of tournament-for-tournament performance. They just couldn’t do it. Emotion, commitment to training and preparation regimes, nutrition, ability to focus as individuals and as a team in a professional environment have been lacking.
Of course up until recently they weren’t getting paid – no more than a pittance anyway and so demanding professional standards will have been tough. Coupled with the laid back way of life enjoyed by Fijians, you get the brilliance without the commitment.
So having a world renown player come in will give players 2 reasons to lift their performance.
Firstly, to give them the best chance of making the team in the face of additional competition; and
Secondly, so they might see first hand where commitment and focus in rugby can lead (hundreds of thousands of dollars and a big profile from Sydney to San Francisco).
So if Hayne brings this positivity, then what’s the risk?
In part it’s there in the second point.
1. Hayne’s fame and wealth did not come from playing 7s for Fiji
It did not come from playing 7s at all. And it did not come from playing either format of rugby. It came from Rugby League and American Football.
If Fijian 7s players want the same kind of success that Hayne has achieved, they will need to leave Fiji and they will need to leave rugby – it’s that simple.
So in trying to get his players to emulate the positive qualities of international superstar Jarryd Hayne – coach Ryan could well be motivating them to leave Fiji 7s.
The other aspect is what his inclusion says to Fiji’s current – and more importantly Fiji’s future 7s players.
2. Fijian players might take Hayne’s inclusion as a lack of loyalty from their coach
The truth is that Fiji do not need any more players to win the Olympics.
Week in and week out they are the best team in the world. And they’ve got their best players from overseas back in Save Rawaca, Waisea Nayacalevu, Semi Kunatani and Samisoni Viriviri.
With the evergreen Pio Tuwai, Vatemo Ravouvou, Osea Kolinisau, Jerry Tuwai, Jasa Veremalua, Apisai Domolailai, Isake Katonibau and Emosi Mulevoro – who else could possibly be needed?
When Fiji play to their wonderful, mesmerising potential no team can get close to them.
And Ryan has been able to get them to play to their potential on a regular basis over the last 2 seasons.
In an increasingly competitive competition, Ryan’s Fijian team have maintained their edge and there is no reason to believe that they will be in their best shape for Rio.
So why fix what ain’t broke?
There’s 2 ways that the 7s players of Fiji could take the inclusion of Hayne – at the expense of one of their countrymen.
I. Coach Ryan is not loyal to players who have bled for the Fijian 7s cause
Players who have been with the team over the last 2-3 seasons. Players who have played but moved away to seek a better life for themselves and their families but negotiated releases to return for the glory of Fiji.
II. Coach Ryan is prepared to replace a true Fijian 7s player with a one-time Charlie
When asked about why he didn’t make himself available to his country of birth – the country where he made his name (and where he will likely end up after the Olympics), Hayne flippantly replied ‘because they didn’t ask’.
But then-coach Geraint John opened the door wide open as early as October 2014 when Hayne departed Australia for the NFL.
Jarryd Hayne to NFL … and then Olympics? Australian sevens coach Geraint John opens Rio 2016 door to departing NRL star
October 16, 2014 11:49pm
“If he doesn’t make it in NFL, his next port of call should be Narrabeen (the Australian sevens headquarters),” John said.
“If you want another new challenge, come to sevens and try the Olympic challenge. It’s right on your doorstep.”
“ rugby sevens is in the Olympics, and if elite athletes like Jarryd want new challenges, we’d be happy to have them along.”
But it seems it’s more than the challenge than Hayne wants – it’s Olympic gold and he opted for Fiji because he knows they have a better chance than his native Australia.
What kind of message does this send to the young rugby players of Fiji?
Why would they stay in the islands to play for the National 7s team if they could be overlooked because a superstar wants a medal?
Why stay if when it comes to the biggest prize in world rugby we could be replaced by a guy who’s only prepared to put in 10 weeks training?
If there is another team on the podium come August 11 when the rugby gold medals are given out, Ben Ryan and the whole of Fiji will rue this decision.