Baber links up with Botitu, Tuimaba, Wainiqolo for Flying Fijians Nov Tour

Fiji 7s Tokyo Olympics Gold medal winning coach Gareth Baber will lead the Flying Fijians in their November Tour matches, Fiji Rugby Union CEO John O’Connor confirms.

Baber will lead an entirely Northern Hemisphere-based coaching panel and 28-member squad for the matches against Spain, Georgia and Wales because of the difficulty of getting quarantine support for Flying Fijians Head Coach Vern Cotter and his set of assistant coaches based in New Zealand and likewise, Southern Hemisphere-based players.

“We can get them to Europe, but it is very difficult finding quarantine support and we felt in terms of welfare and safety, it is not right to ask them to proceed on the tour knowing very well that they would be stuck in Europe and can’t return to their home country,” O’Connor said.

Regarding Baber’s selection, O’Connor said: “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 five year involvement with Fiji Rugby prior to moving to his new appointment.”

Baber will be assisted by former Scottish and current Edinburgh attack coach Duncan Hodge who 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.

Baber and his management team will lead an experienced squad that includes the likes of Nikola Matawalu, Josua Tuisova, Leone Nakarawa, Sam Matavesi, Eroni Mawi, Frank Lomani, John Dyer, Leeroy Atalifo, Lepani Botia, Fili Botitu, Ben Volavola, Waisea Nayacalevu, Eroni Sau. He will also get a chance to reunite with two of his gold medal winning players from Tokyo in Jiuta Wainiqolo, Aminiasi Tuimaba, and Vilimoni Botitu who have also been named in the Flying Fijians squad.

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.

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 a couple of areas where will have shortage of players such as Loose Head Prop, Hooker and Halfback. We don’t have depth in these positions 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 is expected to gather on 31 October and have their first training on 1 November ahead of their first Test against Spain scheduled for 6 November.

They will then take on Wales eight days later before wrapping up their tour against Georgia on 20 November.

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   

Flying Fijians 28-member squad:

Loose Head Prop
Peni Ravai
Eroni Mawi

Samuel Matavesi
Peniami Narisia

Tight Head Prop
Luke Tagi
Mesake Doge
Leeroy Atalifo

Tevita Ratuva
Temo Mayanavanua
Albert Tuisue
Leone Nakarawa

Peceli Yato
Johnny Dyer

Masivesi Dakuwaqa *
Mesulame Kunavula
Bill Mata

Frank Lomani
Nikola Matawalu

Ben Volavola

Vilimoni Botitu *

Levani Botia
Eneriko Buliruarua

Waisea Nayacalevu
Josua Tuisova

Eroni Sau
Aminiasi Tuimaba *
Jiuta Wainiqolo *

Seta Tuicuvu

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 Wales
Venue: Principality Stadium, Cardiff
Kick Off: 4.15am

20th November 2021
Test Match: Flying Fijians V Georgia
Venue: TBC
Kick Off: TBC

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