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Fijian Sevens making four-month sacrifice for second shot at Olympic glory - 'They won't see their families'

Fiji's rugby sevens teams will spend close to four months separated from their families in their bid to achieve Olympic glory.

Fiji Sevens (file photo). Source: Photosport

The men's and women's nationals squads have spent the past eight weeks training in separate bubbles in Suva, following the latest outbreak of Covid-19 in the country.

Fiji men's coach Gareth Baber said they were fortunate to receive an exemption from the Fiji Government to continue their preparations for Tokyo.

"The players came in on the Monday thinking they were going home on the Friday and by the Tuesday/Wednesday it was clear that we had to stay together," he said.

"As things escalated there was obviously the need to show the public we were behaving in the right manners as well. The players haven't been home, they've been in that bubble, and they will not see their families - they will continue now onto Australia and then onto Japan."

The men's and women's squads flew out to Australia early this morning in order to compete in an Oceania tournament in Townsville later this month, that also includes the New Zealand and Australian national teams.

The 51-strong delegation of players and team officials will spend the next two weeks in managed isolation, but will be able to resume training in their team bubbles after three days, provided everyone returns a negative test for Covid-19.

It's been over a year since the Fiji men and women's teams competed on the international stage, while a series of domestic tournaments meant to mimic the World Series were halted in March following Fiji's second Covid wave.

Gareth Baber said the Fijian players watched the All Blacks and Blacks Ferns Sevens taking on their Australian counterparts last month and are looking forward to a return to top level competition.

"In some respects I suppose it gets a few bits of those competitive juices flowing and ultimately what we want to see where is our programme at coming into four or five weeks before the Olympics.

"It's a complicated situation for certain...but if we get ourselves in the right mental state and we work hard to establish the rhythm we've got to have in that tournament we'll be capable of winning that."

World Rugby's Men's Sevens Player of the Decade Jerry Tuwai and Kitione Taliga are the only two players remaining from the Fiji squad that won sevens gold in Rio five years ago.

Baber and Fijiana coach Saiasi Fuli have each taken 18 players to Australia, but can only name 13 players in the final Olympic squad.

"I'll have to officially do it on the second of July and it's announced on the fifth of July, so we've got the month of June basically to put ourselves in a position to name that squad and obviously then go up to Japan."

"We'll go up to Oita on the 8th of July. There's a holding camp and then we'll train there until we transfer to Tokyo on the 22nd."

The Fijian squads have received their first dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine and will receive their final jab while they are in Australia.

And when the players take to the fields of Townsville and Tokyo, Baber said they will be consious of just how lucky they are to be able to represent their country and do what they love.

"(We're) very privileged in this position that we are able to continue and in my mind as well there was always the plan that if things had progressed poorly in Fiji we could have (been) in a different situation.

"You've got to think of players being away from families who, if they did contract Covid, would not be able to help them. I know that's happened around the world and it hasn't happened here in Fiji."

After a difficult few months on home soil, a gold medal in Japan would definitely go a long way to lifting the spirits of a nation.

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