Fiji's ex-sevens coach Baber to take helm for 15s tour

Suva (Fiji) (AFP) –

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Outgoing Fiji rugby sevens coach Gareth Baber will temporarily take control of the Pacific island nation's 15s side for their upcoming European tour, team officials said Tuesday.

The Welshman quit Fiji's sevens programme last week after guiding them to a second gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics this year, saying he wanted to coach 15s rugby.

The global pandemic has given him an early opportunity, with the Fiji Rugby Union saying he would head a European-based coaching unit for next month's tour.

FRU chief John O'Connor said Fiji's incumbent head coach Vern Cotter and his assistants were all New Zealand based and unable to make the trip because of that country's tough border restrictions.

O'Connor also said Fiji would only select European-based players for the tour.

He said there was no guarantee Cotter would be able to secure a quarantine spot in New Zealand if he travelled to Europe.

"We could not take the risk of players and staff being stuck in the Northern Hemisphere in 2022," he said.

"As such, we made the decision not to use anyone from the Southern Hemisphere for the tour."

Baber, who was heading back to Europe anyway, said preparing the Flying Fijians for Tests against Wales, Georgia and Spain was a "fantastic challenge".

"It falls to me to combine this unbelievable playing talent and expertise of the support staff into a winning formula in such a short space of time," he said.

"But what an honour it is."

Baber will work with three assistant coaches in Europe, including Ireland legend Rory Best overseeing the forwards, while Cotter is expected to give advice from afar.