Chris Cracknell: Fijiana Optimistic For Rio

Chris Cracknell, former English rugby sevens player, will be leading the Fiji Women’s rugby sevens side to the 2016 Rio Olympics. A naturally talented and highly entertaining side, under his influence the side have concentrated on proven training and skills development. With that input, and strong support at make, makes Fijiana optimistic for Rio.

Chris Cracknell: Fijiana Optimistic For Rio

Fijiana are the women’s rugby sevens side for Fiji. They qualified for the games by winning the Oceania Olympic Qualifier event in Auckland. They now face 11 other sides for the greatest prize in sports. Gold is the dream that all athletes hold, as they all descend on South America and the Summer Olympics. That too is what is driving these 13 ladies to perform. Like their men’s HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series champions, the women have high hopes. And much of that is down the Chris Cracknell.

Chris Cracknell during the Cup Semi Final match between England and Fiji during Day Three of the IRB Dubai Sevens at the Sevens Stadium.

Having played professionally for many years, Cracknell played under Ben Ryan for the England Sevens team. Representing his nation proudly, often facing the Flying Fijians (see picture) he as transferred his skills from the field into the coaching chair. First as assistant, and now leading the Fijian Women’s cause in Rio.

Their association with the Fiji Rugby union has brought success for the Island nation. Ryan has made huge gains, and Cracknell was promoted to Director of the Women’s team. An ambitious move, while improved coaching is one thing, at the Holy Grail of sport, the players will need to be at peak performance. While the limelight over the years; and especially here at the Rio Olympics, may be on the Men’s team, Fijiana are hopeful for a good outing.

From a bunch of girls to Olympic hopefuls

The Englishman and his Assistant Iliesa Tanivula have brought together a bunch of girls that are willing to do their utmost for their country. The stakes have been difficult for them, with a limited budget to work on. Made up of a mix of unemployed girls and students, these girls have everything to gain and will run out onto Deodoro Stadium full of optimism.

They have come a long way from behind the shadows of their famous brothers who have been trendsetters in the game of sevens. Over the last four decades, ever since they were invited to the famous Hong Kong Sevens, the Fiji-style became extremely popular. Fans soon cheered for the Pacific Island team and the game is played on every island in villages and in schools. This is where the love of the game is born, and players then progress through social and competitive tournaments.

Hand picked from a wealth of talent

Many of the women in the Olympic squad have been hand-picked by Tanivula and Cracknell, who each canvass the nation for talent. It has seen the standard increase, while retaining the enjoyment level. And successful too, they won the Sevens competition at last years Pacific Games. On their path to Rio, the Fijiana side thrashed all teams on their way to claiming the Oceania Women’s Olympic Qualifier.

With many nations opting for Kiwi expertise in the XV’s game [Ireland, Scotland and recent visitor Georgia] Fiji, Samoa and USA have started the new trend of recruiting English expertise in sevens rugby. That has seen China contracted Ben Gollins and Sri Lanka bring in Matt Turner, joining the bandwagon of Ryan and Cracknell.

Fijiana Optimistic For Rio

Fijiana are drawn in Pool A at the games. Competing at the Deodoro Stadium beside 2015/2016 Women’s Sevens Series champs Australia, North American qualifier the United States and South American runners up Colombia.

Here is a breakdown of the team:

Litia Naiqato

The ‘Women Mountain’, the tall lanky lass who runs like a back is the heart of the Fiji forward pack, not only her aerial skills will be vital for the team, it’s her support play and decisive line cuts that makes her outstanding, watch those offloads and the opposition should be weary of her big hits.

Tima Tamoi

She was dropped from the last few tournaments of the World Series but has fought her way back to regain her spot in the team, her aerial prowess during kickoff are her main strength but her defensive work off the ball will be vital as her support play as she has a cunning ability to spring up when needed the most.

Merewai Cumu

Cumu really stood out at the Clermont-Ferrand Sevens with her speed and aggressiveness at the contact area, again tall and lanky with good aerial skills, one of the youngsters in the squad and has a long way to go for her.

Rusila Nagasau

One of Fiji’s trump card, a hard runner who can slot in at rover, an all round player who has an eye for the tryline who on her day can give those bone crunching tackles that will make you wish you were at home watching then playing, good offload skills and one of the leaders in the team.

Asena Roko

Roko is still new to the team but has earned her spot, she will deputize for captain Ana Maria and with every little opportunity she gets this girl will give her all with her speed and quick distribution.

Ana Maria Roqica (c)

A true leader, soft spoken but does all her talking on the field. She also has good distribution skills with speed to leave the opposition guessing. The backbone of the team, one of the best tacklers in the game especially in her role as sweeper. Roqica is capable fo stopping most women bigger than her. Don’t let her size fool you, playing out of position as she thrills when she plays on the wing.

Viniana Riwai

Despite being small in stature, she has made the playmaker’s position her own. Riwai is quick off the mark with good eye for space. She is likely to be helped by Rebecca Tavo as they look to mix up their game plan in Rio.

Rebecca Tavo

The former Australian Sevens captain. She is a utility player with vast experience and another natural footballer. Tavo is good both defensively and in attack. A lot depends on where Cracknell will put her on the field, but her combination with Lavenia Tinai and Rusila Nagasau will be vital to their progress.

Lavenia Tinai

Your typical Fijian rover, quick with her feet, her offloads will be like watching the Men’s team play. Aggressive in defence and can win turnovers at will with her brute strength. Tinai is a main stay of the midfield. Her combination with her two wingers will be vital. Last Word On Sport understand her new role, which will be unveiled in Rio, will take the Fijian fans back to the years of Rupeni Ravonu (Fiji’s winning 1997 Sevens Rugby World Cup) where he used players in different positions, to keep the opposition guessing.

Tima Ravisa

Twinkle toed with a lightning speed, missed out in the last few tournaments but has earned her spot. She is vital to the team as her finishing will be counted on. She needs to run straight often without taking those bee lines and running away from her support.

Luisa Tisolo

A natural gifted winger, she has really grown into her role. The combination with Tavo, Tinai or Nagasau in the midfield will be the x-factor for Fijiana.

Raijeli Daveua

She could be the only debutant in Rio. Daveua is a very aggressive rover. She will be vital with good defensive skills. She is also former netballer with great potential to grow in the game.

Travelling reserve:

Jiowana Sauto – a future for women’s rugby in Fiji. She is just 18 years of age and still in school. She a rugged forward, very aggressive at the breakdown. Sauto can also win turnovers at will.

Tavo Hoping They Put It Together

Rebecca Tavo, speaking with the Fiji Sun said, ”Preparations have been a a dream this last month. Obviously with Ben taking over with us being in camp, and being in charge of our diet and training, it has been really good”–referring to Ben Ryan, who amalgamated much of the Men’s and Women’s training camps into one large group.

”It’s been a big change for us but the hard work is paying off. You can see the girls bodies, their physique has changed a lot. I want to play the best footy that I can for myself and in this jersey. I really hope it all comes together for the team.”

On her thoughts against Pool opponents Australia, Tavo said, ”Obviously, Australia is going to be very good. If we can stick to our game plan and do the best that we can, we may have a chance. I know they are world class players that Fijiana will be going up against, and I hope we can bring it together in the field.”

The Chris Cracknell influence

Will the English charm work with Fijiana, like we have seen with the Men’s team? All that is still to be seen. But one thing for sure is that fans and other teams cannot under estimate this Fiji women’s side. Do that, and you are in for the surprise of a lifetime.

Cracknell told the Fiji Village “The goal definitely is to win a medal. The girls have progressively got better through the year and it’s the main aim for us to go to the Olympics. We wouldn’t be going there for any other reason than to win a medal.” This optimism should be infectious within the group.

Emotion is what that drives these girls. For this side, how they will use that as a motivating factor will be critical to their success.

Bring that all that together: the talent and desire, superior conditioning, training and skills development, along with an ambitious coach in Chris Cracknell, and you have a a winning combination.

Road To Rio–the Fijiana team are on their way to Rio. Stopping in Chile to acclimatize, the Men’s and Women’s teams will complete final training runs before landing in Brazil to carry the hopes of a nation.


Follow all the updates and results of the 2016 Rio Olympic Rugby Sevens competition here on Last Word On Sports.