Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and traveling restrictions and challenges, the Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) has altered its November tour plan for the Flying Fijians who are set to face Spain, Wales and Georgia next month in Europe.
FRU Chief Executive Officer John O’Connor said taking in consideration the challenges associated with COVID-19 including travel and quarantine restrictions, Fiji Rugby has decided not to select any Southern Hemisphere based players. Further since we were not able to guarantee MIQ spots for our NZ based Coaches, none of our Coaching panel and management staff will also be part of the Northern tour.
This means Flying Fijians Head Coach Vern Cotter and his set of assistant coaches based in New Zealand and likewise Southern Hemisphere based players will not be part of the November tour this year.
O’Connor said “We could have made arrangements for management and players to travel to for the Northern tour but we were not able to guarantee their return with the unavailability of MIQ spots in Australia and New Zealand.
“We could not take the risk of players and staff being stuck in the Northern Hemisphere in 2022 as such we made the decision not to use anyone from the Southern Hemisphere for the tour.
He added “Since we are not engaging our Coaches, Management and players from the Southern Hemisphere, we have had no option but to look at alternative arrangements in the Northern Hemisphere. As such Olympic Gold medal winning and outgoing Fijian 7s Coach Gareth Baber 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, High Performance Skills Coach of the Seattle Seawolves and former Irish hooker Rory Best will look after the forwards and former Springboks and Scotland Coach Richie Gray who was with Flying Fijians during the Autumn Nations Cup last year will oversee the ruck and contact area.
It was a natural selection with Baber. He obviously has five years of experience working with the Fijian 7s team, managing high profile players and putting in a plan for the international competition and achieving positive results. While we understand it will be a challenge for Gareth, we believe he will jell well with the Fijian players as they prepare for the three tests. We are thankful that Gareth took on the challenge. His involvement as the Head Coach will be the final curtain of his 5 year involvement with Fiji Rugby prior to moving to his new appointment.
The Flying Fijians 2021 Northern Hemisphere Coaching and Management Team is:
Gareth Baber Head Coach
Duncan Hodge Assistant Coach
Rory Best Assistant Coach
Richie Gray Assistant Coach
Dan Baugh Lead S&C
Thomas McArdle S&C
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
Baber is thrilled to be given the opportunity to coach the Flying Fijians and believes he needs to work hard to be able to match the standard which Vern Cotter planted during the July tour to New Zealand.
“Working with the Flying Fijians is a fantastic challenge in a very unique situation. With the logistical difficulties for Vern Cotter 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.
“But what an honor it is and I am fully aware of the expectation for performance for the three games and the opportunity this creates for all concerned.
“I would like to thank the FRU Board, CEO John O’Connor and High-Performance General Manager Simon Raiwalui for their trust and faith in my abilities and I’m determined to pay this back in representing the nation of Fiji to the best of my abilities” said Baber.
Meanwhile, Fiji Rugby General High Performance Manager Simon Raiwalui said despite the difficulties they have managed to assemble a strong team for the three test matches next month.
The team consists of experienced players who have been playing
competitive rugby in the French Top 14, PRO D2, England’s Premiership Rugby and United Rugby Championship in Wales.
Raiwalui said “It’s a smaller squad than normal, normally we would travel with 32 players but due to shortage in positions we have got a group of 28 players who will have cover in majority of the areas.
“There are couple of areas where will have shortage of players such as Loose Head Prop, Hooker and Halfback. We don’t have depth in these position in the Northern Hemisphere and we would have brought in players from the Southern Hemisphere to fill in the positions but we have selected a great team.
“We have players who are returning from injury and missed a couple of tour with the Flying Fijians such as Viliame Mata and Nikola Matawalu.
“We have got three new players coming in from the Fijian 7s environment and the Olympic Gold medalists who have gone up North, Vilimoni Botitu, Aminiasi Tuimaba and Jiuta Wainiqolo.
“It’s a strong and exciting squad and we looking forward to the challenge,” Raiwalui added.
The team assembles on the 31st of this month to start their preparations, they then face Spain on the 6th of November in Madrid.
The Flying Fijians will travel to Wales and will face the Dragons on the 14th of November before wrapping up the Northern Hemisphere tour against Georgia six days later. The venue and time is yet to be confirmed.
Flying Fijians 28-member squad:
Loose Head Prop
Tight Head Prop
Masivesi Dakuwaqa *
Vilimoni Botitu *
Aminiasi Tuimaba *
Jiuta Wainiqolo *
Key: * is for the debutants
Flying Fijians Test Matches:
7th November 2021
Test Match: Flying Fijians V Spain
Venue: Estadio Central UC, Madrid
Kick Off: 2am
15th November 2021
Test Match: Flying Fijians V Walies
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Kick Off: 4.15am
20th November 2021
Test Match: Flying Fijians V Georgia
Kick Off: TBC