After securing World Series title, Fiji coach Ben Ryan has more big plans for small island

British coach is a hero in Fiji after their World Series title during the last campaign. His next mission is Olympic gold in Rio, writes Paul Radley. Jason Robinson says Britain can be successful when sevens debuts at the Olympics.

Coach Ben Ryan is hoisted by the Fijian team after they beat New Zealand in the cup final and won the Dubai Rugby Sevens last year. Jake Badger / The National
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DUBAI // When Ben Ryan arrived here 12 months ago in his second season in charge of Fiji, he said, without a hint of bombast, he was the most recognisable man on the Pacific island.

As the person in charge of the fortunes of the national obsession, rugby sevens, he said being stopped for 300 photographs per day was about standard.

Then he went and led them to the world series title, just their second in history and the first since the team of the Fijian hero Waisale Serevi, and things started to get silly.

“I try to hide away from it all, but you can’t go anywhere,” the former England coach said.

"There was a song written about me which was a hit in Fiji: Iron, Lion, Ben Ryan, a Bob Marley remix.

“There are a couple of kids who have been named after me. I am due to meet them. It is remiss of me that I haven’t met them yet, but I will. The song made me laugh, but it is all a bit embarrassing really.”

Ben is the man, to quote Babu Marley’s lyrics: “He came from Ing-er-land. We never gave him the pay, but the fella he still stay.”

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He will be staying for some while yet, too, at least until the job is done. The mission is to get Fiji onto the podium at the Olympics in Rio next summer.

Then Ryan says he plans to return to the 15-a-side game to coach, having had his appetite for the long format reinvigorated by the recent World Cup in England.

“I think I’m a better XVs coach than sevens,” he said. “The way I see it I probably have 20 years left in my coaching. I’m thinking XVs post-Olympics.”

Whatever step he takes next, he will have some memories to take with. Chief among them will no doubt be the celebrations that followed the world series win.

The title was wrapped up at Twickenham, in the final leg of the series, in Ryan’s home city of London.

More specifically, it was at the headquarters of English rugby, a neat quirk, given that his spell in charge of England had not ended on the terms he would have liked.

His personal sense of satisfaction, though, was dwarfed by the national pride that was felt back in Fiji.

“The homecoming was just unbelievable,” he said. “It was 10-hour trip from the airport to the capital, which is usually two hours.

“The villages were lying their children on the road, so we had to stop the van and get out and sign and have photos. That continued with them giving gifts. It was huge in Fiji because it has only happened once ever before.”

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For Osea Kolinisau, the captain, the chance to follow in the footsteps of Serevi represented a life’s ambition fulfilled.

“I’ve always said it is a privilege and an honour to play with such a talented group of young boys,” Kolinisau said.

“To me, it is a highlight of my career and my life, captaining Fiji to a second series win.

“I always wanted to sign off my career with a series win. We have done that. In spite of the Olympics in the background, we are working hard to defend the series title this season.”

Former British & Irish Lions star Jason Robinson says Team GB 'have to perform better than they have ever done'

DUBAI // Jason Robinson, the former British & Irish Lions star, said Great Britain can be successful when sevens debuts at the Olympics next summer.

While the world’s leading teams fine tune their game plans ahead of Rio 2016, England, Wales and Scotland will spend the duration of the HSBC Sevens World Series playing separately, often directly against each other.

Once the series is finished, a Team GB squad will be selected and overseen by Simon Amor, the England coach, with his opposite number for Wales, Gareth Williams, as his deputy.

Robinson played for Great Britain in rugby league before converting to union and winning the World Cup with England.

He also represented the British & Irish Lions with distinction, so understands the challenges posed by bringing players from different sides together for a one-off event.

“I know how difficult it can be bringing those teams together,” said Robinson, who is in Dubai as a guest of the series sponsors, HSBC. “It will be a short space of time. That said, the fact they have the opportunity to represent Great Britain is massive.

“They might be the best players in their nation, but are they better than the others? They have to perform better than they have ever done, because their bar is not just set within their own camp anymore.

“It is going to be tough. Ideally, a team want time to get to know each other inside out. That said, I’ve been on Lions tours and it can work if you work exceptionally hard.”

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