The inside pass from Fiji’s world-class leader

UPDATE: Fiji have secured the country's first ever Gold Medal by winning the Rugby Sevens competition at the Rio Olympic Games. Below, we look back at the secret of what makes the team tick.

Click image to zoom Tap image to zoom

As far as world-class teams go, the Fiji sevens Olympic side fit the brand to the letter. Crowned back-to-back champions in the IRB International Sevens Series for 2015 and 2016 and heading to Rio as clear favourites for a gold medal, Fiji’s passion for the shortened rugby code is a national phenomenon.

"We have our strategy down on a piece of A4 paper, that’s it. It needs to be clear, concise and everyone owns it."
Benjamin Ryan, Fiji Sevens Head Coach

Even if they don’t have a ball, kids around the country throw a coconut husk to their mates, dreaming to one day wear the national jersey. When the national team is on the telly, the only thing moving is the palm trees, the nation comes to a standstill.

Recognised as the team to beat at the 2016 Olympics, the Fiji Sevens team stands out for its natural talent and athleticism. While never too far away from the top spot year after year, consistency has been a challenge and control of the team has changed hands over the years.

Fiji rugby super stars have come and gone however over the past two years Fiji Rugby has undergone a dramatic transformation. The change has mainly been due to the leadership and guidance of Fiji Sevens Head Coach Benjamin Ryan.

In a BlueNotes exclusive, Ryan shared some of the key principles for managing a world-class team.


“It’s always good to set the standards upfront,” Ryan says. “All the players know I expect a 100 per cent every time.”

But talk of trying to give more than 100 per cent is misguided, he says.  Pushing people to deliver over what they are capable of is not sustainable - leading to over or underachievement, injury and the like. Enthusiasm for team goals can be easily lost as a result.

This has business parallels leaders can identify with - asking people and teams to do their best but knowing where the limit is.


Strategy for a game or tournament needs to be simple, Ryan says, so everyone understands and takes accountability for it.

“We have our strategy down on a piece of A4 paper, that’s it” he says. “Everyone knows what it is. It needs to be clear, concise and everyone owns it.”

Click image to zoom Tap image to zoom

Fiji vs Australia, HSBC World Rugby Singapore Sevens, April. PHOTO: Shutterstock


“Things can happen in a game that can make you lose important matches,” Ryan says.  “Like a dropped ball on the way to scoring the winning try, a missed tackle or a missed pass."

“It’s important to understand the root cause for these things and it can come down to the simple things we have not paid attention to coming back to haunt us.”

Ryan recalled one incident where the team turned up late to breakfast, missed the meal, and as a result did not attend pre-game ice sessions, rushing their warm up. They lost the match to a team ranked much lower in the competition.


“Having a shot at gold in Rio was a two-year plan,” Ryan says. “We sat down and planned the two years down to daily details. That is the plan we are following and everyone in the team knows about and works towards it.”

The team understands their purpose to such an extent, according to Ryan, members sometimes offer feedback when they feel they have deviated from the plan and need to get back on track.  

Clear communication and understanding of purpose drives everyone toward honest conversations with each other and self-evaluation.

“This helps the team move together with the same ‘talanoa’ (dialogue),” Ryan says. “It’s really handy when facing tough game situations or coming back to win from a few points behind.”


“Sevens is a game that requires rigorous levels of fitness and a resilient mental attitude that can push through even when tested at its physical limits” Ryan says.

While players can go through the routine of the running and passing, the actions must still be coherent and maintain the team game pattern and strategy, he says.

“The team we pick to represent Fiji should be able to manage this change in gears as a matter of habit.”


“Your people are the greatest asset in any organisation,” Ryan says, saving his best advice for last.  “They need to be empowered, engaged and will be able to step and think outside the ordinary to achieve the extraordinary.”

As the team heads into Rio, Ryan says his goal is to make sure he delivers a team of the best individuals prepared to give 100 per cent for their country.

One day, he says, he would like to sit in the stands as a supporter, beer in hand and watch the legacy unfold. Ryan has worked tirelessly developing the sport and empowering local teams and individuals to step up – and make his job redundant.

Fiji goes into the Rio 2016 Olympics as an underdog, a small island in the South Pacific buffeted by wind and waves, crazy about the game of rugby.

The team have the will of the nation behind them to win the first ever Olympic gold medal in Fijian history.

Joape Kuruyawa is contributing editor at BlueNotes


The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

editor's picks

14 Sep 2015

From canoes to corridors: the Pacific trade story

Vishnu Mohan | Former CEO Pacific, ANZ

The Pacific was a very different place in the 1800s. It was a time following Captain James Cook's legendary expeditions, when colonial rivalries and empire building marked the beginning of the region's integration into the global scene.

24 Dec 2015

Women: the heartbeat of developing economies

Carolyn Ive | BlueNotes contributing editor

In the developed world women are struggling to be equally represented in the economy across senior executive roles, retirement savings or political influence. But in some parts of the developing world, the story is different.

23 Feb 2015

ANZ’s expertise can help the Pacific: Mohan

Phoebe O'Sullivan | BlueNotes contributing editor

The CEO of ANZ’s operations in the Pacific Vishnu Mohan says ANZ’s regional development agreement with the Australian government is an opportunity for the bank to use its expertise to better the region.