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Fiji goes back to bare basics in training

By Agence France Presse | China Daily | Updated: 2016-08-03 07:39

Fiji has never won Olympic gold, but that could change in Rio with a rugby sevens team that trains on sand dunes and in coral lagoons.

Fiji's old-school training also includes breathalyzers and bans on mobile phones, while its players will spend as little time as possible at Rio's distraction-laden athletes village.

The ragtag squad includes prison wardens, police officers, members of the military and some unemployed who live in Fiji's traditional villages.

"We've got a team at the moment which is one of the best teams Fiji has ever had. They're current world champions ... so this is Fiji's time really," said coach Ben Ryan.

Apart from a few key exceptions, Ryan has largely eschewed Fiji's army of overseas-based players, even ignoring a late bid by rugby league star-cum-American football hopeful Jarryd Hayne.

"I've always had the idea that going to the Olympics with all these local-based boys that are from the villages might just give us an advantage over all these other teams that are bringing in guys from all over the place," Ryan said.

"Perhaps our culture will be a little bit tighter and hungrier than everyone else."

Fiji's distinctive, free-flowing style has long been admired in sevens rugby, but it has taken a decisive step forward under Ryan, England's former sevens coach.

Training sessions are built on Fiji's natural advantages: running up 100-meter sand dunes and swimming in natural lagoons formed by coral reefs, all in the Pacific's stamina-building humidity.

"Everything's there - it's simple, but it's all there for us and the natural environment really helps us," Ryan said.

It's an approach that was partly born from necessity, as when Ryan arrived in 2013 Fiji had no sponsors, no facilities, and the team's funding had been suspended by World Rugby.

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