DUBAI // Fiji are the only nation who could contend with all the upheaval they have endured in recent times and still be considered potential World Cup winners. That is the view of Gordon Tietjens, the coach of the reigning IRB World Series champions New Zealand, who said the troubled side pose a strong threat in Dubai this weekend.
Fiji's preparations for their Melrose Cup defence could hardly have been more tempestuous as they sacked the great Waisale Serevi as coach with just over a month to go before this evening's big kick-off. Serevi's much-vaunted protege William Ryder then withdrew, veiling his protest at his mentor's dismissal by citing an ankle injury for opting out. Amid the gloom Fiji have assembled a side rich on overseas talent yet short on familiarity.
They have not trained together as a team, and many of the players had not even met before this week. Yet a side containing the explosive talents of Vilimoni Delasau, Jone Daunivucu and Sireli Bobo cannot be discounted, according to the sevens coach Tietjens. "They have a very experienced team here," he said. "They won the last World Cup by doing exactly the same. "Their team wasn't performing in the World Series, they brought back all these players from overseas clubs and linked them into the team, went away and won the World Cup.
"Fiji have more depth than any other country in sevens. They were brought up playing the game. "All the players they have brought in have been wonderful players for them before and it won't take long for them to get back into it. "The only question is, in such a short space of time, can they have such an influence on a team that is disappointed with the way they have been playing? "It is a challenge for them, but if they start well on day one and day two, they will be a real threat because they have some wonderful players in there."
Fiji's new coach, Iliesa Tanivula, hopes his Serevi-less side have finally been restored in the affections of his nation's people. "A lot has been said about what happened back at home with what happened to the coach," he said. "That is something out of our control. As a team, we have to control our controllables, look after our game plan. "Now the support has started to come in, more so than when Serevi was sacked. That is life - you have to get up and move on."