Ben Ryan goes "Inside Fiji Sevens" following a historic victory in Hong Kong and a dramatic semi-final loss in Tokyo plus he talks science and looks ahead to a tense climax for Qualification and the World Series title
Hong Kong and Tokyo were challenging for very different reasons. Hong Kong is, well, Hong Kong! In Fiji the build up to the tournament was eagerly awaited and there was plenty of pressure on the team to perform.
That was good and I like that pressure on us as a team. Our chairman reminded us that if you win only one tournament then it better be Hong Kong! No one wanted to come home without the trophy.
The masses boarded the Fiji Airways flights and converged on the stadium, cheering us on loudly all weekend. They also respected keeping their distance in the days leading into our games and the boys rested up well. Our crowd funding group, “South Bay Davui” presented us with two more “Gameready” machines the day of the Samoan game and we also announced a new additional sponsor, The Shangri-La Hotel Group.
It was a short but really clean and effective build up and a world away from the hectic and ultimately disappointing preparation we had 12 months prior.
Nearly all the teams do a pre tournament ‘blow out.’ I see teams in car parks, on fields near hotels, training grounds and stadiums, all having a session pre tournament to get their second wind. Scientifically, there isn’t any concrete proof it works and with the increasingly heavy workloads on the pitch, we looked at this and decided to change what we are doing.
No blow outs for us this year, instead a different routine that doesn’t expend the same amount of time or energy and it certainly seems to be working with for us with a 100% win record in every Day 1 this season. I think one thing I have certainly learnt in almost a decade coaching international sevens is do not overcomplicate matters. Simplicity in almost everything is key and deal with what is actually in front of you, not what you think might be.
When I was with England, I got a bit of a reputation as a mad scientist, bringing in various strategies and tools that perhaps hadn’t been used before. Yet, all the things we did were to get measurements of whatever we saw as important. It was anything but crackpot or weird but might have looked it occasionally!
One year we had Mickey Young and others wrapped in silver foil after the warm up in Scotland to retain his core temperature and be ready to go out on field ready. We were seeing that the ten minutes between finishing warm up and going onto pitch almost wiped out the good stuff done in the warm up. We were sharing the room with NZ and they certainly found it all comical, but it was a simple solution to making sure the team were ready to perform and a few years later the various Olympic athletes in the GB winter team were doing exactly the same.
Stuff like GPS was seen as new and innovative eight years ago yet it was a simple decision at the time to use it as it gave us some simple and straightforward data we could use. Now its commonplace and the next body sensor network is almost upon us.
Keeping it simple is same motto we have now. Be vigilant and watchful in how the players move, act, what their mood is etc. in the days following the first tournament. That, plus other physical measurements we take do lead you to adjust how you load the team with rest and work before the tournament. Experience is certainly a key factor in this and its vital for a good second week performance. Looking at the gap between the top 5 teams this year and the rest – the key fact is that they are regular cup teams. The others have been in then out the following week and few below the top five have hit consecutive cup quarters or more.
On the pitch in Hong Kong, we were creating a lot of opportunities in attack and I could see a lot of our practiced defensive strategies beginning to surface. We had some twists and turns, as you would expect in Hong Kong but I was pleased we had such a hard route through to the final. I always feel having tough cup quarters and semi finals really helps your campaign in the first of the paired tournaments. Week two it can be different, as accumulative fatigue sets in and the level of physical performances gets harder to match.
I think our consistency all year helped us in the tight games and everyone was happy with the control the players are beginning to exert on the tempo and way we play. The final felt comfortable on the side of the pitch and the boys played some good football with the bench really making the impact we wanted. I am not saying finals are easy at all but twenty-minute games are good for us and the way we play. We haven’t lost a final in the last two seasons and I would be happy to have more ten minute each way games though not sure players share that view!
Tokyo was more challenging. It was cold, no pool facilities in the hotel so we resorted to hot and cold contrast baths in the rooms of the players, but by game time on Saturday, the team was as well recovered and primed as we could hope.
The semi-final was a tense affair and a tight game was won by South Africa to give them a slim lead over us going into the UK.
It has been a strange arrival back in Fiji. Normally, I come back from a series pair of tournaments and its fair to say I am spent! It is more mental fatigue as anything else. As all the coaches will testify, you spend a lot of hours over tournament weekend and between the two tournaments watching, analyzing and generally doing all you can to be as prepared as possible come game day. Yet, this time, I feel like I am ready to go to Glasgow now! Perhaps it is knowing the final two tournaments are close and a classic finish is possible. Maybe we just want to continue to build on the inertia the last few tournaments have given us. Whatever it is – I certainly feel excited for what is ahead of us these next few weeks.
We lead the statistics in nearly every area:
- Won the most tournaments (FIJI 3 SA 2 NZ 1 ENGLAND 1)
- Won the most games (FIJI 37, SA 34, NZ 32, ENGLAND 23)
- Winning record against SA, NZ and ENGLAND (2-1, 4-0 and 4-1)
- Longest winning runs this season (FIJI 18, SA 12, NZ 8, ENGLAND 3)
However, the statistic that ultimately only really matters is the series table and there we are in second spot, behind an excellent Springbok side. Yet, that consistency encourages us for the next two legs.
The boys were incredibly deflated after losing that semi final and it’s been a driver for the next two, final tournaments. We are in a group full of classy, European sides that wont have the travel fatigue we will have, only landing in Scotland on the Tuesday before the tournament so we know it’s a challenge from the off.
We will need to get those 3 ½ days pre our first game absolutely spot on to be ready for the tough pool games. At the time the flights were requested, we had no finances to fly in early and so we had to arrive when the tournament picks up the costs on Tuesday.
Though we have found some cash now to come in earlier but it looks like we wont now be able to change the flights- so one of our biggest hurdles will be the late arrival.
It looks like it’s a three horse race at the top with a possible clash between two out of the top three in one of those quarterfinals. A Cup quarter final for us in Glasgow will confirm our place in Rio next year. The seeding has meant that we have kept playing South Africa in semi-finals. In Vegas, HK and Tokyo, the two teams were seeded 1 and 3. Now the top four all get seeded, so it would make for a good argument for it to become 1 v 4 and 2 v 3 in the future. Personally, I feel its something we should re-look at as a group from next season.
With the way the whole series has gone, I have no doubt the finale is going to be full of drama, deep breaths and at least one more, unscripted, final moment. The gates of horn and ivory await.