Fiji hail Ben Ryan's influence after winning Olympic gold
Last Updated: 12/08/16 10:37am
English coach Ben Ryan has been credited with helping Fiji rediscover their natural rugby flair after they became the first Olympic men's sevens champions at the Rio Games.
The Pacific Islanders put on a masterclass of sevens rugby to demolish Great Britain 43-7 to claim their nation's first ever medal at an Olympic Games.
Fiji have produced some of the best sevens players in the world with the likes of Waisale Serev, Marika Vunibaka, William Ryder and Tomasi Cama Snr. lighting up the stage.
However, consistency has always been a bit of an issue and Ryan, who took over as Fiji coach in 2013, has been hailed for developing that side of their game to enhance their natural talent.
Fiji beat GB to sevens gold
Fiji's Rugby Sevens team claimed their nation's first ever Olympic medal
Ryan was left disillusioned with the game after he was fired as England sevens coach after seven years in charge and was grateful to receive a quick offer from Fiji to take over its program where he said he rediscovered his fire.
Discovering an unfit team with a poor diet, he made the players buy into his rules by threatening not to select people who refused to follow them.
When they won their second tournament under Ryan in Dubai 2014, crushing New Zealand 44-0 in the semi-finals in one of the greatest sevens performance ever seen, the players were convinced Ryan knew what he was doing.
He has introduced his team to lean meats and salads, dropped carbohydrates, worked hard on their fitness, banned mobile phones -including his own - before and during tournaments, and cut down on their drinking.
"Our performances speak of how good the coach is, and we've been blessed he chose to come and coach Fiji, and set things straight with the boys, and bring out the real Fiji," said captain Osea Kolinisau.
"For years, we've been trying to get back the Fijian flair, and what Ben did is bring that out, and a lot of consistency that was lacking in our game.
"I'm thankful, and hopefully after his break he decides to stay with Fiji rugby a bit longer."
Ryan's contract ends on September 3 and he has told the Fiji Rugby Union he will take a break for a few weeks to consider his options and make sure he picks the right decision.
"About a year ago, I knew I wanted to leave, and wanted to go back into 15s, but the more this sevens train has carried on and the more I've enjoyed it, it's almost jumping off at the wrong time now," Ryan said.
He added that he "may or may not return, but they should keep the door open," and has drawn up a calendar for the next two years for the team.
Ryan has certainly enhanced his already formidable reputation on the sevens circuit and is a national treasure on Fiji where babies are named after him and bands write songs about him. But despite his obvious influence he is reluctant to take centre stage.
"I feel very lucky that I'm in charge of such an unbelievable group of athletes with a country behind us that's so passionate about rugby sevens," he said. "I'm a small part of all of this. It's the team really. The coach just sort of points and blows his whistle.
"We showcased Fijian rugby, and everybody who was watching, maybe even the British supporters, can have a smile."