Vakatawa: ‘We want to win a medal, and why not?’

Date published: August 8 2016

To be first choice for your country at both XVs and Sevens is rare – to do so without playing club rugby – that is a case reserved for the remarkable Virimi Vakatawa.

It’s not hyperbole to describe the Fijian-born Frenchman as among the very best exponents of Sevens but his plan to switch between both rugby formats without a club contract is unique within the sport.

Rio’s Olympic Sevens this summer looked set to be both the pinnacle and farewell for Vakatawa in the format with former club Racing 92, Toulon and Toulouse all eager for his signature.

Instead he surprised everybody by signing a new two-year deal with the FFR and a trip to San Francisco for the 2018 Sevens World Cup is in his sights after Brazil.

He explains: “I signed two more years because I want to be part of the France team through to the World Cup in San Francisco, so that’s the main objective.

“Now I will be part of the France team at the Olympics and then hopefully part of the France team through to the World Cup.”

So what of XVs? Yoann Huget is back playing again, but realistically Vakatawa remains France’s most dangerous outside back.

When England won the Grand Slam Jack Nowell was given a torrid time in defence in the clinching game in Paris.

Vakatawa’s fate is in the hands of Guy Novès, and even if he has signed up for Sevens, he hopes he did enough to stay in the XVs picture.

“I’m not sure about it, I only signed a contract with the Federation so hopefully I will get the chance again to play for the XVs team,” he said.

“It was a great achievement for me as a rugby player to be part of the France XVs team to participate in the Six Nations. It was great of the staff to trust in me and call me up.

“I don’t only want to be part of the World Cup with the Sevens, but also the France team at the 2019 World Cup. So at the moment I will try to do my best in Rio, and then hopefully I will have a chance to go to the World Cup in San Francisco and then the XVs World Cup in Tokyo.”

That would mean two more years of switching between the two formats. Sonny Bill Williams has managed it this year and will fulfil his Olympic dream but as a long-term solution is it realistic?

Well as Vakatawa explains, he was able to stay in Sevens shape during the Six Nations.

“Sevens is always hard in terms of fitness but I was lucky because I only spent a short time with the XVs team,” he added.

“And I was also training with (the Sevens squad) so I had no difficulty when I came back to Sevens.”

Staying in Sevens shape is not really the issue though, the question is whether he can fulfil his XVs potential while not playing club rugby. That remains to be seen.

For now his focus is on Sevens, with the Olympic Men’s Sevens tournament kicking off on Tuesday, and Vakatawa is thinking big.

With two silvers and a gold, France have actually won more Olympic medals than any country in history, but if they are to add to that record, they will need Vakatawa to fire.

In this season’s Sevens World Series les Bleus reached the Cup quarter-finals in four of six tournaments where Vakatawa was present, they failed to make the last eight in any of the four tournaments he missed.

A prodigious offloader, blessed with an incredible step and deceptive pace, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that Novès came calling before the Six Nations.

But while he remains a raw talent at XVs, in Sevens Vakatawa is already a superstar.

“Now I am focused about Rio and our first game against Australia. Everyone came here for a reason.

“We want to win a medal and why not? (Pool opponents) Australia and South Africa are big teams but I have confidence in my team, I trust them.”

As for France? In Virimi they trust.

by Paul Eddison