The band are back together and the greatest hits tour has started. Albeit in the unlikely surroundings of Pitch 4 at the furthest extremity of The Sevens complex. But they could yet finish with a stadium date on Saturday.
The reminders of the glory days of Fiji’s golden generation were many on Day 1 of the Emirates Dubai Sevens.
Osea Kolinisau, World Rugby hall of famer, kicked the goals. Pio Tuwai did some supernatural offloading. Even Jeremy Manning was up from Abu Dhabi to help out with the coaching, just as he did at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
And, after a draw and a win in their first two games as a LAR Speranza 22 side, the day ended with a song of thanks.
“The song means, in Fijian, ‘Rely on God’,” said Kolinisau, who was Fiji’s captain when they became the inaugural sevens Olympic champions five years ago.
“No matter what the situation, win or lose, we always rely on God. I think the boys chose that song because it fits our mood today. We were a bit down in the first game, but our belief was still strong.”
Pitch 4 seemed an odd place for sevens royalty to be making their return. On the edge of the Sevens precinct, there is little passing traffic. The few spectators who were present for LAR Speranza’s 14-14 draw with Monaco Impis, and 21-5 win over Zastava, were given a treat.
“It doesn’t feel strange,” Kolinisau said. “It is the same rugby ground, the same markings, the same number of players. Us Fijians just find joy in throwing the ball around. No matter where we play, we try to find the joy and fun in it.”
How the tour squad ended up reunited in Dubai is remarkable, and is in large part thanks to the lone non-Fijian in their squad in young Welshman Stefan Collins.
Gallery from Day 1
He travelled to Fiji at the start of 2020. After checking into Facebook on arrival, he was contacted by Tuwai, against whom he had played in an invitational sevens tournament in the UK in the past. Within two days, he was living with one of the greats of sevens rugby.
“It stemmed from living with Pio,” Collins said of the Life After Rugby part of the LAR Speranza story. “Watching him on the TV, you think, ‘This guy has got everything, he is one of the best players.’ Then you go there and they barely have a roof over their heads.
“Life after rugby can be downhill because of the way life is over there. We wanted to do something to change that. I said, ‘Do you think we can round a few of the boys up and play a few tournaments?’ I was introduced to Osea, and everything was green from there.”
The tournament they are entered into this weekend is the highest standard after the World Series, and the Fijians are under no illusions as to the task facing them.
“What other people forget is these guys are 36 and 38,” Collins said. “They’re seeing names. Yes, experience can carry you through. But some of the teams we are playing here pay players to train five days a week.
“Our boys don’t do that – but they haven’t lost yet. We will see on Friday and Saturday if the experience does kick in. There are a lot of strong teams here.”