Top Kiwi coaches join Fiji
SPOTLIGHT: While Fiji have always been blessed with players of outstanding potential, the upcoming Vern Cotter era could be when the island nation really stake their claim to be a global superpower of the game thanks to an exceptional coaching group.
Cotter, the most successful Scotland national coach since rugby turned professional, has spent the past three seasons with Montpellier and was named new coach of the Flying Fijians in January this year. His final season in France was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic which has granted the New Zealander ample time to plan for the upcoming contracted international season.
That planning has included recruiting some of the best rugby brains in the business to support the exceptional cattle that Fiji will be able to march out when this year’s internationals finally kick-off.
Cotter will be joined at Fiji by Jason Ryan, Darryl Gibson and former referee Glen Jackson.
Ryan is in his fourth season as forwards coach of the Crusaders and is contracted to the Super Rugby champions until next year. Under his tutelage, the side have secured three championships and are in pole position to take out the NZ-only Aoteroa competition.
Gibson also tasted plenty of success with the Crusaders, winning four titles as a player during his seven seasons with the team. More recently, Gibson was the head coach with the Waratahs until 2019.
Arguably the most unusual recruit is Jackson, a former Chiefs player who was a professional referee for the better part of 10 years, only hanging up his whistle in 2019.
Jackson’s appointment will give the Fijians some direct insight into how the game is currently being refereed – something few teams are lucky enough to have.
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“Jacko has come from the dark side – he’s going to join our coaching group after being a referee for a number of years,” Cotter told the New Zealand Herald.
“He’s got a big job in front of him. He’ll also be liaising with referees but mostly he’ll be giving our players an understanding of what referees see. I can’t hold him back he’s so enthusiastic about the whole thing,”
Cotter also revealed that he has his sights set on some of the talented Super Rugby Aotearoa stars who are eligible to play for Fiji.
“There are guys that have shown really good form,” Cotter said. “Alex Hodgman from the Blues has gone really well. [Chiefs loose forward Pita Gus] Sowakula is also playing well.
“There are some really good players we’d love to be able to access. The guy we’d love to get is Hoskins Sotutu, but I think Ian Foster has probably got his eye on him. If Fozzie doesn’t pick him, he is welcome to come and play for Fiji.”
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Fiji were due to play Australia during the July international window as well as Wales, Georgia and the new All Blacks XV on their end of year tour. All four matches have been cancelled due to the global pandemic, however the island side are on the cusp of joining the Six Nations teams for an end of year tournament. The Pacific Nations Cup has also been pushed back until October.
While Cotter says nothing is confirmed yet, he’s still bemused that his team are due to be grouped with England, Ireland and Wales in the end of year competition.
“The tournament is still not 100 percent confirmed in November in Europe,” Cotter said. “It changes daily which is only natural because it’s an uncertain landscape. We’ll be delighted to be involved but we’re waiting for the boxes to be ticked.
“I just wonder how we got into the pool with England, Wales and Ireland. Japan, Italy and Scotland are all ranked lower in World Rugby rankings than the teams in ours.”