For standing his ground and fighting for what he believes was the way to lift sevens rugby in Fiji, Waisale Serevi was forced to resign as the national sevens coach by the former Fiji Rugby Union administrators (Note: FRU at that time was under the chairmanship of Keni Dakuidreketi).
This was all revealed in his new book titled; Waisale Serevi- the King of Sevens, written by Nic Darveniza and published by Bay Area Publishing.
After coaching Fiji to their first ever World Sevens Series win in 2005/06, he was approached to return as head coach since the 2009 Sevens Rugby World Cup was coming up.
“It was a difficult decision for Serevi, for he was torn between his new role (Taiwan coach) and answering the call of duty to the noble banner blue. Ultimately, he placed the needs of Fiji higher than his own. After just one season away, the little master made his return,” the book says.
The extremely high standards Serevi had set as Fijian coach/player between 2005 and 2007 had begun to slip, the book says.
“On his return as head coach, Fiji reached the Cup finals in Dubai and South Africa but fell to New Zealand on both occasions.
“When the team broke for the Christmas break, Serevi accepted an invitation to participate in the Darwin Hottest Sevens tournament in Australia in January with a group of talented prospects from Fiji.
“While he relished the chance to lace up his boots again, the mission to Australia also served a hidden agenda. His playing companions were in effect trialling for a place in the Wellington Sevens squad for the following month.
“However, on his return to Fiji, Serevi was bewildered to discover that without even consulting him, a group of (then) officials had already selected a squad for Wellington. Worse still, he had been booked in for a TV interview to discuss the announcement.”
This was the start of one of his most trying times as coach and when his opinion on the national sevens team fell on deaf ears as those at Rugby House at that time took no notice.
The book says; “Throughout his career Serevi had held steadfastly to his code that in any interview, he would make sure never to upset anyone who might hear his comments. But this time he saw red. The question, ‘What do you think of the team?’ prompted a passionate and severely undiplomatic response.
“As far as Serevi was concerned, putting together the squad for Wellington was supposed to be about finding Fiji’s next great sevens hop, young men would fit well into his game plan and help carry Fiji to back-to-back World Series titles. Not so. On return, Serevi found out the hard way that the board of selectors didn’t care about his opinion on selection.”
This left him ‘stinging’ on the inside as selectors rarely face the axe when results faltered- it always fell on the coach and players.
It was during training the next morning a group of powerbrokers from within the then FRU administration handed Serevi a letter of resignation.
“He had lost the support of the (then) governing body. Serevi was stunned. Through airing his disappointment publicly was not necessarily his finest moment, he had expressed his opinion and challenged anybody to tell his he was incorrect.
”Nevertheless, the damage was done. Serevi signed the letter, thanked his employers for the opportunity to help Fiji and went downstairs to farewell his boys.
“Auckland winger Iliesa Tanivula was already waiting, ready to take over coaching responsibilities. Serevi shook his hand and wished him well before returning to the team.
“Serevi called the team around him one last time and told them the news. Jaws hit the floor. Tears flowed freely as their Tata reminded his boys that everyone in the room was there to serve a greater purpose.
“They represented not only the Fiji Rugby Union, but more importantly they were to represent the 14 provinces, the church, the vanua and the government of the day.
“They represented the President, the Prime Minister, and the Cabinet Ministers, their team-mates, their families and their supporters. In front of them was a precious opportunity to wear the Fiji colours- one that must never ever wasted or taken for granted.
“To leave the Fiji team after 21 years of service towards its cause was tough, but the pain was a mere fraction of his emotional commitment to his latest rugby family he’d built, trained and often fed over the previous four years.
“Serevi held his head high as he walked out of the training base, unemployed for the first time since he was a teenager but with no regrets.”