Fiji coach talks up Olympic gold
Fiji coach Ben Ryan says consistency will lead them to glory in Rio
Fiji have declared they are gunning for the rugby gold at the Rio Olympics in August.
Their English coach Ben Ryan is confident that his charges are able to handle the pressure that comes with such an ambitious target.
Taking some time off preparing his side for the Hong Kong leg of the World Sevens Series this weekend, the 44-year-old coach told The New Paper in a phone interview that his players are well-equipped to deal with the media scrutiny, since rugby is always under constant spotlight in Fiji.
Rugby has not featured at the Games since 1924, and will make a reappearance this year in the quicker, more unpredictable Sevens format.
Asked if declaring their gold-medal target could affect the team negatively, Ryan said: "Pressure does make people crumble sometimes.
"No matter how you practise and rehearse it, you can never replicate what it's like when you are in a medal match at the Olympics.
"But if any team are used to this pressure on a daily basis, it's us.
"When we wake up in the morning, the front or back pages of the newspapers - sometimes both - will be about the Fiji team.
"The seven o'clock news will probably have a lead story on us as well.
"Everywhere in Fiji, you hear people saying 'This guy should be sacked, or that guy knows how to do things better'.
"So, the boys are used to it."
He has no qualms talking up Fiji's chances either, adding that statistics back up his claim that they are the "most consistent team in the world now".
Even then, the Wimbledon native says he is taking nothing for granted, especially when it comes to managing his players' fitness and making sure they are in peak condition in Rio.
"It's something we manage closely," said Ryan, who took charge of the team in September 2013.
"We use GPS and heart-rate monitors. We had a plan to 'undercook' them all year... they're big now, but they're all muscle.
"We'll trim them down when we get to the London and Paris legs of the Series (in late May), and get their fitness to a higher level.
"We've seen some big players like New Zealand's Ben (Lam) pick up bad injuries (ruling him out for the Olympics)... so it's something we look at."
Turning his attention back to immediate matters, Ryan said Fiji are also keen to defend the World Sevens Series title they won last year.
The Fijians currently lead the standings with 106 points, having won two (Dubai and Las Vegas) of six legs so far, but have South Africa (105 points) and New Zealand (104) breathing down their necks.
He said whoever are top after the Asian swing - the much-anticipated Hong Kong 7s and the Singapore 7s next weekend - would stand a "great" chance of winning this season's title.
Asked to predict which teams will be their biggest rivals in Rio, Ryan said: "I'd say New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.
"United States are nipping at our heels too, and Argentina, being on home continent, could also do well.
"I'm not going to make any predictions for Rio other than basing it on form.
"History has shown not always the No. 1 team win gold (in major tournaments) and, hopefully, we can change that."