Gareth Baber leaves a mark and an impression

Fiji Airways Fiji mens 7s coach Gareth Baber speaks to his players during their training session at Albert Park in Suva on Wednesday, January 09, 2019. Picture: JONACANI LALAKOBAU

Olympic Sevens gold-winning hero and our head coach Gareth Baber is to join Edinburgh as skills and assistant attack coach.

The 49-year-old Welshman will move to Scotland in December, having been in his role as Fiji 7s head coach since January 2017.

The former Cardiff Blues coach had a spectacular spell with Fiji, guiding our national 7s side to 11 HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series tournament victories and then winning the 2018-19 overall WRSS title.

He arguably becomes Fiji’s best 7s coach.

In a press release, Baber said: “I look forward to adding value to the group, utilising my own rugby knowledge and coaching experiences. The prospect of joining an innovative and knowledgeable coaching staff at a top European
team, which has in its ranks some of the best rugby talent in world rugby, excites me enormously.”

Baber’s background

Baber is a former Wales rugby player and during his playing career he earned a Blue for Oxford University’s rugby team.

He also featured at scrumhalf for Pontypridd RFC, and featured prominently in Pontypridd’s European Shield victory over London Irish in 2001 where he appeared on the wing.

Prior to joining the national 7s side, Baber was assistant coach with the Wales national under-20 team.

He was also academy skills coach at Welsh regional side Cardiff Blues, and in July 2011 Baber and Justin Burnell were appointed head coaches of the Cardiff Blues following the resignation of Dai Young.

In November 2013, Babe became head of Hong Kong men’s rugby 7s and directed the senior men’s, women’s and youth programs at elite level.

In October 2016, he signed a four-year contract with the Fiji Rugby Union to coach the Fiji rugby 7s team.

Since becoming the Fiji 7s team head coach, he won 11 tournaments with them, beating the previous record set by Ben Ryan of nine.

When Baber was appointed head coach, he had to rebuild his squad with the departure of big names such as Osea Kolinisau.

He struggled initially, and in his debut series, he managed one tournament win compared to Ben Ryan’s success.

He was not too popular with the crazy rugby 7s fans, and calls were made for him to be sacked, but the Welshman
stood his ground.

He worked hard and formed a formidable combination.

His success was a result of his belief in his system and his players and team management.

He received accolades for his performance.

Baber’s achievements on the HSBC WRSS circuit

2016/17 season 2017 Hong Kong 7s winner

The 2017 HK 7s turned on another ‘rugby 7s extravaganza’ with sensational matches on day three, as Fiji won a third triple crown title to add to their phenomenal record at So Kon Po Stadium.

Fiji travelled to the Happy Valley as defending champs and won their hat-trick.

The South Sea Islanders walloped South Africa 22-0 to claim their 17th title.

Kalione Nasoko was named Player of the Final and he made the 2017 HK 7s Dream Team alongside Isake Katonibau
and Vatemo Ravouvou.

2017/2018 season 2018 Hamilton 7s Winner

The Blitzboks finished second to the flamboyant Fijians in Hamilton, after losing the final of the tournament 24-17 in what turned out to be an epic encounter in which Fiji fought back from 17-5 down at half-time to claim victory.

Three Fijians made the Dream Team in the form of Jerry Tuwai, Kalione Nasoko and Eroni Sau.

It was a great performance from the national side as they overturned the disappointment in the Sydney 7s to win the inaugural Hamilton 7s.

Alosio Naduva, who was quick as lightning, scored three tries and was also given the Hamilton 7s Player of the Final award.

2018 Vancouver 7s Winner

In front of a rapturous crowd, which was full of excitement, the men from the South Sea Isle ran rampant at the HSBC Vancouver 7s.

Fiji defeated a high-performing Kenyan outfit 31-12 to bounce back, and decrease the championship lead that South Africa had built-up.

Sevuloni Mocenacagi was named Player of the Final, while Kalione Nasoko and Eroni Sau made the Dream Team.

2018 Hong Kong 7s Winner

The 2018 Cathay Pacific/HSBC Hong Kong Sevens came to an enthralling end, as Fiji won a historic fourth consecutive title.

They humbled Kenya again in the final 24-12, in a repeat of the Canada Sevens final.

It ended four days of breathtaking rugby sevens.

Famed for a party atmosphere almost unrivaled in the world of sport, Fiji enjoyed the annual trip to HK more than most.

Fiji had four reps in the Dream Team – Kalione Nasoko, Semi Kunatani, Eroni Sau and Amenoni Nasilasila.

2018 Singapore 7s Winner

South Africa was beaten 12-10 by Fiji in the Cup semis.

Fiji subsequently won the event, edging Australia 28-22 in the cup final.

The result was enough for Fiji to knock South Africa off top spot on the overall WRSS standings.

Eroni Sau and Alosio Naduva made the Dream Team.

2018 London 7s Winner

Fiji continued its dominance of the HSBC WRSS.

The South Seas Islanders defeated South Africa in the final 21-17.

The home of English Rugby Twickenham was the venue of the two-day tournament.

And with the popularity growing, a large crowd turned up on both days.

And they were thoroughly entertained by all the sides present, and to the credit of the Olympic champions, they survived a tight final, to claim another cup fi nal- the fifth of the season.

The inclusion of Josua Tuisova and the magical Semi Radradra, who was the Player of the Final, was ‘too hot to handle’ for the rest of teams.

Paula Dranisinukula, Josua Tuisova and Semi Radradra were part of the London 7s Dream Team.

2018/2019 season 2018 Cape Town 7s Winner

It was a great defensive effort from the Fiji 7s team, especially in their last two games of the tournament, that saw them claim the 2018 HSBC Cape Town Sevens title.

They scored five-tries-to-three, including a pair of doubles to ‘Captain Fantastic’ Kalione Nasoko and rookie Vilimoni Botitu.

Ben Pikelman grabbed a double of his own for the Eagles, with Carlin Isles bagging the other, in the Eagles second final appearance, in the 29-15 loss to the triumphant Fiji 7s side.

Kalione Nasoko and Alosio Naduva made the Dream Team.

Led by Baber, Fiji had ended a 13-year-old drought in Cape Town.

2019 Hamilton 7s Winner

Fiji proved excellent value throughout the Hamilton tournament, showcasing trademark skill, flair, and speed on the way to backing up the victory secured in Cape Town at the end of 2018.

The Pacific Islanders went relatively untroubled in the later stages at Hamilton, defeating Canada and South Africa in the quarters and semis respectively before a six-try humbling of USA.

Fiji grabbed back-to-back Hamilton 7s titles, winning 38-0.

Kalione Nasoko, Meli Derenalagi, our midfield creator Vilimoni Botitu and the 7s tournament’s leading try scorer
Aminiasi Tuimaba made the Dream Team.

2019 Hong Kong 7s Winner

Fiji won for a record fifth straight HK 7s title, defeating an in-form France side 21-7.

Gareth Baber called it a ‘fantastic feeling’ while dedicating the trophy to the victims of the Christchurch mosque
attacks.

Fiji had two players in the dream team: Meli Derenalagi and Jerry Tuwai.

•  2019 London 7s Winner

Fiji climbed to the top of the standings after winning the London 7s for the second year running.

They beat Australia 43-7 at Twickenham to go two points clear of the USA, who beat France 31-14 in the bronze final.

Meli Derenalagi and Jerry Tuwai made the London Dream Team.

2019 Paris 7s Winner

Olympic Games champions Fiji sealed their fourth WRSS title as they won the season-ending Paris Sevens tournament in style.

Victory in the last four against series runners-up USA 33-14 was enough to confirm Fiji’s status as champions.

They then produced a superb display in the final to see off the All Blacks 7s, who finished third overall, 35-24.

Fiji finished the season top with 186 points.

The Fiji 7s side had finally won back-to-back tournaments on the circuit in consecutive weekends.

2019/2020 season 2020 Sydney 7s Winner

The 2019/2020 season was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Fiji won in Sydney for the first time.

Napolioni Bolaca played a crucial role in Fiji’s 12-10 victory over South Africa in the final, where he scored the only tries for Fiji to give them the win.

He was named in the Sydney 7s Dream Team alongside Waisea Nacuqu.

The side gave fans plenty to cheer about after being knocked out of the pool competition in Hamilton a week earlier.

Argentina had beaten Fiji in pool play.

Conclusion

Gareth Baber did wonders for the national 7s side.

He won 11 tournaments on the circuit, and won five back-to-back tournaments in the HSBC WRSS circuit
– a feat that was never achieved by any Fiji 7s coach, including the great Waisale Serevi, Peni Veidreyaki or even Ben Ryan.

We have lost perhaps the best 7s coach that we had on the 7s circuit.

His record speaks volumes of the amount of effort that he had put in as our 7s coach.

He has left a mark and an impression, and I thank him for his contribution to Fiji rugby.

He gave us some breathtaking moments, and these moments will be cherished in years to come.

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