Gareth Baber’s phone call was a bless­ing, says promis­ing winger

Fiji Sun - - FRONT PAGE - SIMIONE HAR­A­VANUA Edited by Leone Cabenatabu­a Feed­back: simione.har­a­vanua@fi­jisun.

Ris­ing winger Ji­uta Wainiqolo has set his sights on play­ing in next year’s Olympic Games and the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

The 21-year-old was one of the three play­ers that were in­vited by Fiji Air­ways Fi­jian 7s coach Gareth Baber to join the ex­tended train­ing squad to pre­pare for the re­main­ing tour­na­ments of the HSBC World Sevens Se­ries and the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Ja­pan, next July. Speak­ing to SUNs­ports yes­ter­day Wainiqolo said, he saw the op­por­tu­nity as a bless­ing af­ter he was dropped from the squad last year. “Ev­ery­one that played sevens switched to fif­teens rugby be­cause of over­seas con­tracts,” he said.

“If I make it to the sevens team and get an op­por­tu­nity to play at the Olympics I’ll take it and then I’ll switch to fif­teens where I’ll fo­cus on the 2023 Rugby World Cup. “Baber has given me this op­por­tu­nity. I’ll take it be­cause I grew up around sevens rugby and watched my idols like Waisale Serevi, Vil­imoni De­lasau and the win­ning Olympic gold medal team in Rio 2016.

“For me per­son­ally when I was dropped from the squad last year, I thought that was the end of the road for me.

“I started fo­cus­ing on fif­teens rugby. When I re­ceived the call from Baber I couldn’t be­lieve it and I was so happy.”

Wainiqolo said it was ev­ery young boy’s dream to play for the Fi­jian 7s team.

“I’m no dif­fer­ent to any of them. To be given the op­por­tu­nity to don the na­tional sevens colour I will take it with both hands and play with hon­our and pride for God, coun­try, vil­lage, fam­ily and friends.

“I will give my all dur­ing train­ing and will al­ways en­sure that I’m fo­cused, com­mit­ted and al­ways ready to test my­self ev­ery time I train with the squad so I can play in one of the tour­na­ments com­ing up.” Wainiqolo said he was very much ea­ger to learn from the coaches and se­nior play­ers.

“All the knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence that I have in rugby counts so I will take it with me to camp.

“At the same time I’ve to learn new things from the ex­pe­ri­enced guys in the team. It is al­ways im­por­tant to re­spect and adapt into a new en­vi­ron­ment,” he said.

Wainiqolo added that dur­ing the lock­down his body con­di­tion­ing had im­proved.

“My body and nig­gling in­juries have re­cov­ered so I just can’t wait to get back to train­ing,” he said. Wainiqolo said he needed to work hard on his fit­ness es­pe­cially when play­ing at in­ter­na­tional sevens tour­na­ment.

“Play­ing sevens rugby won’t be hard for me be­cause I have al­ways played it be­fore. The only thing that will be a chal­lenge is the fit­ness as­pect of it.

“In sevens rugby we got to be fit be­cause we have to cover a lot of ground. There’s seven peo­ple play­ing as in fif­teens rugby you can al­ways re­lax dur­ing the game.

“I’ll have to work hard on my re­flexes and try­ing to add some power to my game for phys­i­cal con­fronta­tions.”

Photo: Simione Har­a­vanua

Rookie winger Ji­uta Wainiqolo works on his farm in Navua on May 11, 2020. The 21-year-old was again in­vited by Fiji Air­ways Fi­jian 7s head coach Gareth Baber to join the ex­tended train­ing squad and the young­ster has agreed, set­ting his sights on next year’s Olympic Games.

Photo: Simione Har­a­vanua

Ji­uta Wainiqolo works on his farm in Navua on May 11, 2020. Wainiqolo made his de­but for the Fiji Air­ways Fly­ing Fi­jians against the Bar­bar­ians last Novem­ber. He is now re­called into the Fi­jian 7s ex­tended train­ing squad for the World Sevens Se­ries and next year’s Olympic Games in Tokyo, Ja­pan.

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