Fiji and Samoa may be the favourites to win the Rugby Sevens gold medal at the Pacific Mini Games on Friday, but don't rule out the possibility of a Waisale Serevi inspired Papua New Guinea or hosts Cook Islands springing an upset in Raratonga.
The powerhouses of Oceania rugby warmed up for the Pacific Mini Games and the forthcoming IRB Sevens World Series by playing at the Trustco Namibia Sevens last weekend, but would have returned home disappointed, Fiji losing in the semi finals and Samoa suffering defeats to both Portugal and Zimbabwe.
Fiji and Samoa will both be desperate to avoid suffering a similar fate in the Pacific Mini Games in Raratonga, where Tonga, Cook Islands and Papua New Guinea are expected to be the other sides in real contention for the medals come Friday evening as the Sevens competition closes the Games.
The Fijians are the top seeds in Pool A with the hosts, Niue, Tahiti and Wallis & Futuna their opponents on Thursday and Friday morning, while Samoa are joined by Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and New Caledonia in Pool B.
"It is a very exciting event, not only for rugby but our region," explained Will Glenwright, the IRB's Regional General Manager for Oceania. "The Pacific Mini Games is one of the two big multi-sport Games, the other being the Pacific Games, that are held in the region.
"That is the beauty of Rugby Sevens and I think that is the attraction of Rugby Sevens to an event like the Pacific Mini Games, it is a genuine world-class event and world-class athletes that are assembling in Raratonga for this event."
"We have got Papua New Guinea over there, the bronze medallists from the Pacific Games in Apia two years ago, and of course they are being coached by Waisale Serevi, the Fiji and Rugby Sevens legend. It is going to be very interesting to see how they perform in Raratonga and also Cook Islands, who had a fantastic Oceania Championship last year so I think it is going to be an interesting competition.
"There is a history of upsets at the Pacific Games and in the Oceania Championships and countries like Cook Islands in particular, who have scored big wins over Tier One countries on the IRB Sevens World Series over the past couple of years.
"I think the potential is there for Cook Islands and Papua New Guinea. Who knows what effect Waisale Serevi will have on them and then of course you have got the power houses of Samoa and Fiji. It is very exciting and I think anything can happen, certainly Fiji and Samoa will be the favourites for the gold medal, but anything is possible and that is the beauty of Rugby Sevens."
The presence of Sevens maestro Serevi, twice a Rugby World Cup Sevens winner with Fiji, and his impact on the Papua New Guinea squad is something that intrigues Glenwright, particularly given the potential for rugby's growth in the country.
"There is a lot of potential in Papua New Guinea, not only in Rugby Sevens but rugby in general, so it is fantastic that they have been able to attract a coach of the experience and expertise that Waisale brings.
Genuine Olympic medal hopes
"It is a new challenge for him; he has got a blank canvas with which to work. Papua New Guinea is a huge country and rugby is growing over there, I think he is going to attract a whole new generation of future stars in PNG."
Glenwright, like all members of the Rugby family, are eagerly awaiting the International Olympic Committee's decision on the inclusion of Rugby Sevens in the 2016 Olympic Games and the medal opportunities that would provide for countries in Oceania.
"It is huge and it is a very exciting time, not only for rugby, but sport in the region because what rugby offers the Pacific islands in particular is a genuine opportunity to win an Olympic medal.
"Olympic medals in the Pacific islands are few and far between historically and this is a very real opportunity for Pacific islands countries to win an Olympic medal and perhaps even a gold and that is not beyond the realms of possibility.
"In that regard it is very exciting, it is great for rugby, it is great for sport and it is great for the Olympic movement that countries like Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands have a chance of winning an Olympic medal."
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