Discpline has always been a problem area for the Fiji Sevens team or so they said, so I thought I would do a little digging and see what the numbers say.
My initial purpose for this article was to post something in defense of recently axed Sevens star Sevuloni Mocenacagi. Sevu has always walked pretty close to the edge and played the enforcer for the past few years along with being our best utility player. So in his defense I will say that although his numbers are not great, they have improved, certainly since his first year. In 2020 he played in every tournament and had two yellows to his name. He sits equal fourth behind Meli Derenalagi, Vilimoni Botitu and Waisea Nacuqu. He recorded the same in 2019 along with a red card and two yellows in 2018. A vast improvement of his rookie season in which he recorded 5 yellow cards and a red card.Embed from Getty Images
Losing one of our best players this close to the tournament is not ideal and will no doubt send shockwaves throughout the Sevens camp. Like many Fijians I am dissapointed to lose such a pivotal player but at the end of the day Sevu has not heaped blame on anyone and apologised to the Fiji public so if he is moving on then we must do so too. His brothers Kavekini and Isoa will no doubt be in contention for a spot at the games.
In my quest to find some numbers to support Mocenacagi, I came across some alarming statistics. If we go back to the start of the Sevens Series in 1999/2000 and tally up the amount of Yellow Cards and Red Cards by team, Fiji lead both categories by quite a margin. When it comes to the sin bin, we have 71 more than the closest team and nearly double when it comes to send-offs.
Before the Rio Games
Ben Ryan was head of the Fiji Sevens team for three seasons from the 2013/2014 season up until the end of his tenure in 2016. One of the key factors he brought to the team and many credit him for is discpline, on and off the field. While I am a believer and the record says as much off the field, on the field the numbers tell a different story, or more like the same story in terms of discipline from the previous 3 seasons before he took the helm.Embed from Getty Images
From 2011-2013, the three years before his arrival, the Sevens side recorded a total 30 yellow cards and 4 red cards. With Ryan as coach the Sevens team recorded 37 yellow cards and 2 red cards. There are many different factors to consider most of all the context in which these fouls were commited but from a pure numbers perspective not much improved if at all. Whilst Fiji didn’t top the cards list in any of his three seasons, they did top the list when the totals were combined.
After the Rio Games
This is when things really take a turn. After the arrival of Gareth Baber the numbers really start sky rocketing. Now this is not an attack on coach Baber at all, he has had to deal with a high turnover of players most notably the leader of the side Osea Kolinisau and he has had to usher in a lot of younger players, not to mention the pressure of filling the role of a man admired by everyone in the country.
Back on the numbers, in 2017 Fiji finished top of the pile for players in the bin with a record 24 yellow cards eclipsing their previous high of 15 in 2013. The next year things did not improve as they recorded 25 yellow cards for the season, setting another record. In 2019 again they outdid the previous year with 26 binned players over the course of the series. An average of 2.6 per tournament.
An alarming stat is in 2020 after only six tournaments, Fiji amassed 24 yellow cards, an average of 4.0 per tournament. At that rate they were headed for the high 30’s. Over the past three seasons combined they have averaged 25 yellow cards per season compared to 12 for the three years prior to the Olympics.
Even more concerning is Fiji are top of the sin bins every year for the past four years and growing every year with 2020 being the worst on average. A shocking 175% increase on the previous coaching timeline and if you take away a year to make it an even 3 years v 3 years, it’s still an 108% rise.
We should consider
There are other factors to consider including the change in some of the laws and rules regarding head contact and let’s not get started on the automatic sin bin for accidental knock-ons and attempted intercepts but there seems to more at play here whether it be leadership or coaching and cutting one player will by no means fix what obviously is a much broader problem.
We all know numbers don’t tell the full story and as always context is key but either way you look at it those numbers are very alarming to say the least. Gareth Baber will live and die on his decisions and time will tell if any of these stats mean anything when Fiji’s pride and glory make a run for the nations second gold medal later this year. Let’s hope it improves because in three months the whole nation will stop and all focus will turn to our team and every decision made over the past four years will be judged by the Fiji public.Embed from Getty Images
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What did you think of the article? I was a little hesitant to write this as I am more concerned with the positives as there is enough negatives to go around already so I hope you all appreciate the work put into this post. Let me know what you think, join in the conversation and leave a comment below.