Semi Radradra boosts Fiji bid for another Olympic gold medal

Semi Radradra is a “marked man” but Fiji Sevens head coach Gareth Baber is backing the Bristol centre to play a key role in the defence of the Olympic Games gold medal in Japan after he linked up with his team mates who arrived on a freight flight hauling mostly frozen fish.
Radradra travelled from London while the rest of the players flew from Australia to Fiji and then onto Japan with the final destination their training camp in Oita. Lorraine Mar, the chief executive of the Fiji Association of Sports and National Olympic Committee, said that arranging travel for the Fiji team to Tokyo had been a “logistical challenge”. Mar told AP around 51 athletes and officials, mostly the Fiji men’s and women’s sevens squad, were travelling from Nadi on a regularly-scheduled freight flight which has some capacity for passengers.
The Fiji teams were originally expected to fly directly from Australia to Tokyo, but plans were changed at the last minute due to new COVID-19-related restrictions in Asia.
Radradra has been following is own fitness regime with Bristol’s conditioning staff and quarantine restrictions have meant he has not taken part in any sevens training sessions until this point with his teammates with the whole squad moving to Tokyo on July 22 for the Games.
However, the 29-year-old did play for a Fijian invitation side in the super sevens tournament in Newbury last weekend and while that is some way from the standard of competition Radradra will face in Tokyo, Baber believes the former Flying Fijian captain’s exceptional talents made him a unique case for selection.
Baber said: “Semi is marked man and has played a lot of rugby but has been well looked after by Bristol and is a big investment for them. We know that wherever we go we have a target on our backs and have to put it all together to defend the gold medal.
“We would have had Semi in Australia but we couldn’t because he would have faced two weeks quarantine and so we targeted him going straight to Japan.
“Semi is a very humble individual and a superb athlete and it will be great for the younger guys to be around him and understand what it takes to be an international rugby player. You wouldn’t do this with many players but someone of Semi’s capabilities means you have to look at it.
“Semi has been working with the Bristol conditioning coaches and has had a full season in England. He is healthy and has been training in Bristol and he has done this before. He is a player who played in the World Series previously with just one week preparation.
“I have had conversations with Semi all along and if we had opportunities in the HSBC World Series he would have come in with us before this stage.
“When this (Olympic cycle) started it was explained to everyone that there were potential players coming in from Europe and it’s happened before. Originally, we thought we would get four or five tournaments to prepare the team for Tokyo and it is a tough gig for anyone.
“A number of the young players in our squad have not met Semi before and he has particular skills set and behaviours that are influential within the group and beneficial to the team. I enjoy working with him and I can only see benefits for having him with us.
“This is international rugby and we have a lot of inexperience players and its important you have players who have performed at that standard and Semi has played in a World Cup in Japan and has a strong sevens background.”
Baber has taken heart from the victories over New Zealand and Australia at the Oceania tournament – their only warm up event before the Olympic Games.“The reality is that no team has the build-up they really wanted and without the Series you are on a shorter runway anyway.
“The intensity of the games and the physicality we brought to it in Australia was good but there are work ons and you have to be careful you don’t get carried away and objectively see what we have to do to progress. We know that every team is positioning themselves to get a lift before Tokyo.
“The players dealt with quarantine in Australia and then came out in Townsville and put it together which was very satisfying. In the next two weeks we will try and build on that and some. We won’t be playig any games before the Olympics start and so Townsville was our only tournament.”