Rugby World Cup: Contrasting loyalties for Fiji sevens coach who hails from Wales

Gareth Baber coached with Cardiff Blues and Hong Kong sevens before becoming Fiji sevens boss in 2016
Gareth Baber coached with Cardiff Blues and Hong Kong sevens before becoming Fiji sevens boss in 2016
Rugby World Cup: Wales v Fiji
Venue: Oita Stadium, Oita Date: Wed, 9 October Kick-off: 10:45 BST
Coverage: Full commentary on every Wales game across BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru, BBC Radio 5 Live and Radio 5 Live Sports Extra, plus text updates on the BBC Sport website and app.

Fiji sevens coach Gareth Baber would normally plot the success of his squad on the international rugby stage.

But the Welshman living in Fiji might find himself having contrasting loyalties on Wednesday as the land of his birth and adopted nation where he now works meet in the Rugby World Cup in Oita.

The former Cardiff Blues coach admits he has found his loyalties being questioned ahead of the Pool D match.

"I have been asked a lot of questions about where my allegiance lies," said Baber.

"I am a Welshman coaching Fiji and when we are involved in sevens competitions my focus is fully on Fiji.

"The conversations I have had recently are about my support for Wales.

"I will be watching it here at the British High Commission in Fiji with a few other Welsh people around with us trying to get an atmosphere for the big event."

Communal living

Fijians will be watching the games in the traditional way with previous stories of people huddling around the one television in the street or village to cheer on their rugby heroes.

"Sometimes it is as basic as that," said Baber.

"Fiji is a proud rugby nation and their World Cup games get watched by huge numbers.

"I have had the opportunity to travel around and you realise some people might have very little in their lives but rugby.

"So the ability to watch their team play across the word is a huge deal for them.

"They will very much look to maybe that one television in the village or that might be one between three or four houses.

"Every international is recognised as an important day in Fiji and you will see people take time off work and get together.

"Fijians are communal people, and watching rugby together in a village house around a television seeing their heroes play against a big team like Wales, is as communal as it gets."

So what will happen if Fiji win?

"It would be incredible," said Baber.

"There would be fireworks going off and I thought there would not be as many people going into work the next day.

"It is as big and significant as that."

Media playback is not supported on this device

Gatland explains selection for Fiji match

Fiji shocked Wales in 2007 with a 38-34 win in Nantes that dumped Gareth Jenkins' side out of that World Cup and ultimately led to Warren Gatland's appointment as head coach.

Under Gatland, Wales have beaten Fiji in the 2011 and 2015 global tournaments and Fiji have had a mixed competition in Japan with an opening 39-21 defeat against Australia followed by a shock loss to Uruguay,

Memories of 2007

After an impressive 45-10 win over Georgia, Baber senses a belief back in their home nation among the faithful they can win their final group game.

"They think they can (shock Wales)," said Baber.

"They know if they can create the right mental state and have the strategy to hold themselves in games, they have the capability of scoring three or four tries in a 10-minute spell that can rob momentum from the opposition.

"They will be thinking of a Wales game as a do or die. They want to prove themselves to the world and to their country.

"That 2007 game is still seen as iconic. Fijians enjoy pressure and going up against Tier One nations.

"Tier two nations don't think they have the same opportunities even though they can produce such talent.

"Seldom do they have a chance to test themselves at the top level against Tier One nations. That chance is now."

Baber, 47, now lives in Fiji and recognises similarities between the two rugby loving nations.

"It's pretty equal when you see the sense of belonging and pride Welsh and Fiji people have for rugby and how you have grown up with it in your lives," said Baber.

"The slight difference in Wales is there are other avenues of that sense of national pride and other sports.

"In Fiji it is only rugby where they are able to excel at international level. With that carries a huge amount of identity because Fiji as a nation is known throughout the world for their rugby ability.

Media playback is not supported on this device

Proud brothers, 'but he can sleep in the bath'

"Especially with Fiji being Olympic champions in sevens and what they have achieved on the World Series.

"There is also a proud connection with the boys who play in France, UK, Australia and New Zealand coming together and representing Fiji.

"That link back to the community is similar to growing up in Wales where you would have your rugby club, church and a pub in your village."

Sevens Heaven

After a stint with Hong Kong, Baber took up the Fiji sevens job when he replaced Ben Ryan three years ago after the English coach guided the side to Olympic victory in Rio.

Baber has been tasked with retaining that title next year in Tokyo and admits only gold will be seen as success in a format that still dominates the Fijian rugby landscape..

"There is a different development structure in Fiji," said Baber.

"Most of the people you see playing XVs would have all of played sevens at some point.

"I can't see that is going to change in the next three or four decades and I hope it doesn't.

"All kids are exposed to sevens at a young age and if you spent time in Fiji you see that being played everywhere for obvious reasons in terms of utilising space and numbers.

"It is a good mechanism for kids in villages to get out there and play and have exercise.

"As you drive around different villages you see these pick-up games and they are all playing exactly the same style as you see at international level."

Top Stories