England great Ben Gollings 'still getting used to' their absence at Dubai Sevens

Fiji coach saw his side downed by new Great Britain side on topsy-turvy opening day of HSBC Svns in UAE

Fiji coach Ben Gollings at this year's Dubai Sevens. Ruel Pableo for The National
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Having represented England with such distinction here in the past, even Ben Gollings reckons it’s weird they are no longer present at the Emirates Dubai Sevens.

The 43-year-old back became the leading point scorer in world series history during an illustrious career with England.

Yet on Saturday night he found himself coaching Fiji against the side who have replaced them – Great Britain.

Fans from the home nations are still struggling to compute the change. They are used to barracking against each other in the stands at the Sevens, rather than cheering on the same team.

Even the merchandise store on site at The Sevens still sells England, Wales and Scotland shirts.

“It feels funny coming to Dubai and not seeing a red rose, or the Scots and the Welsh,” Gollings said.

“It is different. It is something I am getting used to, especially having had so many great years here with England.

"But we are in a new era now with sevens, so it is all about how we move forward.”

GB are now in their second full season on the series, and their tough baptism has continued, having finished ninth on the world series last season.

They opened the new campaign with a 36-12 humbling by United States on the first morning in Dubai, then were thrashed 35-0 by France.

Somehow they managed to rebound to beat the previously imperious Fijians 24-0 in the evening match.

It was too little too late, though. They finished last in their pool, to miss out on the knockout phase.

The result meant Fiji will face Ireland in the quarter-final on Sunday morning, and Gollings is expecting an improvement from his side.

“Credit to GB, you know they are always going to have a game in them,” Gollings said.

“They had a tough morning so we knew they were going to want to bounce back and right some of the wrongs which started their day off.

“For us, I think we took it too easy on the field. Rather than try to reset after GB got a start, we let it fall. We were trying to push things, didn’t keep hold of the ball, and we didn’t control kick off.

“It is disappointing because we set ourselves up well. The game against France [which Fiji won 40-5] was fantastic. We know in this tournament now every game is a cup final in terms of the opposition you are up against.

“Every game now is one you have to be ready for, so I am hoping the disappointment fires us [on Sunday].”

Gollings is starting out his third season in charge of Fiji. They ended his first by winning the Rugby World Cup Sevens at the end of his first season in charge.

He hopes they will be able to extend their winning run of Olympic gold medals when they get to Paris next summer, having won the two previous events in Rio and Tokyo.

He knows he has big boots to fill following on from Ben Ryan, his own former England coach, and Gareth Baber, as coach of a country that is besotted by rugby’s abridged format.

“There is a lot of support from the country,” he said. “They want you to win and you understand that. You are the heartbeat of the nation and you want to buoy them up because it is their sport.

“It is humbling as well when people come up and say hello, but there is pressure as well. We will take that. We have to wear our performances.

“Last season was tough. We didn’t quite hit our stride and we didn’t win a cup final. This year we need to press and get some wins on the board.

“We have to build now towards the Olympics, being gold medal holders, we want to retain that title.

“There is pressure. But the focus for us is not on the pressure, it is on what we can control out here.”

South Africa will face Australia in the opening quarter-final, starting at 10.58am, followed by Fiji v Ireland.

The United States then face New Zealand at 11.42am, with Samoa playing Argentina in the last quarter-final straight after.

Updated: February 14, 2024, 12:33 PM