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To the depths of passion

Fred Wesley
Monday, August 29, 2016

It is becoming clear that not one member of the gold medal winning national sevens rugby team realised the real impact of the victory in Rio until they arrived back home.

We have finally won our first gold medal at the premier sporting event on the planet.

There was meticulous planning by coach Ben Ryan. Preparation did not just happen in the eight weeks leading up to the Olympic Games 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

There had been a systematic grooming of players over the years.

Ryan had a vision. The mechanics of attaining that vision had to be plotted effectively over a few years.

Work was spread out. There were a number of focus areas. He strategically worked on individual players. He focused on their discipline, their diet, mental and physical preparation.

When one looks back over Ryan's stint with our sevens team, there is no doubt about the emphasis the national coach placed on personal relationships. He had time for the players' family. He learnt about the way the players spoke and tried to understand the reason they did the things they did. He made an effort to understand where each player came from and their family background.

There was value placed on that crucial part of the team. Think about Pio Tuwai's personal tragedy.

Think about STC Winston and the impact on the players, and Ryan's response at the first day back at training at the Uprising Resort. All these little focus areas had to be worked on for the bigger picture, which was the end result — the fulfilment of the vision.

That would have set the final eight weeks to focus on the target which was to win gold in Rio.

There is no doubt about the fact that we have natural talents and an amazing flair for sevens rugby.

There is also no doubt about the fact that the game has actually evolved over the years.

Structures have been designed to nullify many of our strengths and exploit many of our weaknesses.

Real time video analysis means our teams are studied and weaknesses picked on much faster. It means half-time pep talks can be relayed in real time to opposition coaches and game plans adjusted accordingly. Ryan obviously knew all this. He retained our flair, our passion and our running game, but surely many fans would have noticed a more structured effort in tournaments. Our kick-offs, conversions, engagement in the tackle area and defensive and attacking formations were a joy to watch. Our players were focused. They were confident.

Emphasis on our reduced defensive formations meant we could still be effective even when we were down by two men in tight matches.

These were some of the scenarios that unfolded for those fortunate enough to be part of our final preparations leading up to Rio. What we saw in the final against Great Britain was the result of good planning.

It was when the team arrived home that the reality of their amazing achievement truly sunk in.

A nation united in celebration. Every imaginary demarcation line was cast aside as thousands of Fijians embraced the victory.

Fans such as Rajesh Reddy, 45, braved the sun to catch a glimpse of our 7s heroes during the Rio gold celebrations in Labasa on Saturday.

Mr Reddy, who was born with deformed legs and begs for a living, limped around and waved a flag proudly as he waited for the national 7s rugby side to approach his location.

Like thousands of fans, he never met any member of the team.

But he knows each one of them by face. He knows Ben Ryan. That's how deep the appreciation for the gold medal win goes.

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