Since 2013, I've had the honour of coaching what I truly believe is the most special sports team in the world, the Fiji national Sevens team. This year, as rugby sevens joins the Olympic Games, it has the potential to be a transformative moment for Fiji and the game of rugby globally.
It really is impossible to describe just how important the game of rugby sevens is to the people of Fiji unless you've experienced it. Having grown up in the UK, I experienced the national obsession that was the England football team. Take that level of interest, multiply it tenfold, and you just about reach the importance of rugby to the people of Fiji! The sport is front and back page news, and anyone who has ever gotten a cab in Fiji will tell you that the rugby sevens team is all that the driver will talk about. I saw the post below on social media last week, and it summed up perfectly what rugby means to Fiji.
The rugby team that I've had the privilege to work with for the last three years is a special group. For some mainstream rugby fans, Fiji has a reputation as being skilful but inconsistent. Part of what my team and I have been looking to bring is a focus on the performance rather than the outcome. It's not about looking to pour one points, it's making sure the organisation and fundamentals are sound, and the result will follow. The result is that this team has become the most consistent in the world, averaging 28 points a game over the last 12 months, and so far winning three legs on the current HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series in Dubai, Las Vegas and Hong Kong.
When this team travels to Rio this summer, it represents a once in a lifetime opportunity. Fiji has never won an Olympic medal, and to do so in the sport that the country is so crazy about would mean a huge amount to the people of Fiji. On top of this, the people of Fiji have suffered greatly in recent months, in particular from the effects of Cyclone Winston that caused a massive amount of damage in February this year. The people of Fiji have fought back like they always do, but to have the rugby team achieve on a global level after the year the people of Fiji have had would be special.
I spent some time last week with HSBC, the series sponsor of the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. They've just released a fascinating report focused on how the game of rugby could develop in the next ten years, particularly focused on how the Olympics can impact the sport. I absolutely agree that rugby is at a key tipping point, and should be about to reach the next level. In a previous life I was a school teacher in the UK, and I know for a fact that rugby sevens, if packaged correctly could really take off in UK schools, particularly in working class communities who currently have little exposure to the game. But to make sure this happens, there are a few things that I think are crucial to ensure the future health of the sport.
One of the most enjoyable legs of the Series so far was our time in Vancouver. The stadium and atmosphere were incredible. What was interesting was seeing local fans being introduced to rugby for the first time questioning how we played the game, why was water being brought on when it is only a 14 minute game? Why we have half time? Why we have so many lineouts? North America is a key market for the growth of World Rugby, so if it is to succeed, we need to think about how sports like the NBA work high paced action where every second counts. Currently the ball is out of play for 50% of a sevens game, the same rate as 15s.
The other thing struck me about Vancouver was the quality of the pitch. The artificial turf was brilliant, and meant that multiple games could be played back to back with no loss in quality.
Rugby joining the Olympics this year presents an incredible opportunity, both for Fiji and for rugby as a whole. We collectively just need to make sure we safeguard the sport with the correct regulations, so the whole world can benefit from the love for rugby that I've witnessed as coach of Fiji.
You can read the full HSBC #futureofrugby report here - http://bit.ly/HSBCreport. I'd love to hear what you think, so do get in touch by tweeting me @benjaminryan.