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Fiji counting on returning veteran to bring home Olympic gold

SPOTLIGHT: Fiji are banking on bagging Olympic gold for the third-straight time in Paris after the return of veteran playmaker Jerry Tuwai – following a turbulent time on and off the field.

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Since their Olympic triumph in Tokyo three years ago – the Fijians haven’t been all that dominant in the years to follow as they usually have on the HSBC SVNS World Series.

They haven’t won a SVNS Series tournament for two seasons and in March 2024 they gave head coach Ben Gollings his marching orders – four months out from the Olympic Games.

Former Fiji sevens captain Osea Kolinisau – who won gold with Fiji in 2016 under former coach Ben Ryan took over from Gollings and restored the experienced Tuwai.

The 35-year-old double gold medal winner and former teammate of Kolinusau made an immediate impact.

Tuwai helped Fiji finish the season on a high in Madrid as they finished as bronze medal winners after pushing eventual winners France all the way in the semifinal.

Tuwai is well known for his trademark sidestep and seems to still have it.

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“Fiji is blessed to have Jerry Tuwai, you can see the leadership he brings,” said Kolinisau, who also recalled another experienced playmaker in Vatemo Ravouvou.

“He is commanding on the field, it is like having a coach playing with the players,” Kolinisau added.

“I’m thankful Jerry is willing to go to a third Olympics.”

The 2019 World Sevens player of the year was soon back to his mesmerising best.

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In the final leg of the SVNS Series in Madrid, Tuwai picked defences apart with his trademark sidestep, speed and handling skills to help Fiji get wins over South Africa and Ireland – dotting down in both games before a heartbreaking defeat to eventual champions France in a last minute 21-14 semifinal defeat.

The timing of Fiji’s improvement could not have been better as they aim to peak in Paris after only two podium finishes in the 2023/4 HSBC SVNS Series season.

This is a poor return by their standards, as they are a side who are always in the mix to win SVNS Series titles.

They even had a disappointing tournament in Hong Kong back in April, after failing to progress past the quarterfinals in Kolinisau’s first event in charge – a leg they consider their ‘home’ tournament – with a record 19 title wins under the belt.

The iconic bank note story

The game of sevens means everything to Fijians with the men’s team the only gold medal winners in the Pacific nation’s history.

Following their 2016 Rio Olympic triumph – Fiji printed $7 bank notes emblazoned with the winning team to mark the achievement.

The notes were updated after their Tokyo triumph with the bronze-medal winning women’s side also featuring.

“They will be immortalised in the national currency,” said the prime minister.

The expectation for the national sevens side to deliver again remains high from their passionate supporters and Kolinisau is confident that four months is enough for his side to clinch a golden hat-trick of medals.

“Nothing is impossible, it depends on our preparations, how I prep and what the boys are going to bring in,” Kolinisau said.

The likes of France, New Zealand, Argentina and Australia will be some of the threats Fiji might face when they defend their Olympic gold medal – with the men’s rugby sevens kicking off on July 24 at the Stade de France – two days before the opening ceremony.

Fiji is drawn in Pool C alongside hosts France, USA and Uruguay.

The Final will take place on July 27.

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