Fiji women’s head coach Chris Cracknell tells RW’s Alan Dymock about the transformation he and his skilful side have been through
NEW CHALLENGES. Some people thrive when they come up. Some people even go looking for them.
If they’re lucky, they will excel like former England star Chris Cracknell.
A year ago he was forced to retire due to a knee injury. Six months after that, he decided to leave his comfort zone and move to Fiji, joining up with former coach Ben Ryan. The Fiji boss says he felt he “owed him” and he believes that the move to get Cracknell involved in talent identification and coaching has given the former star a new lease of life.
Cracknell is now assistant coach with Fiji’s men, but it’s when he talks about coaching the women’s team that his enthusiasm bursts through.
“The Fijiana girls are supremely talented,” Cracknell says. “The challenge they always had was to get fit. Now they have the capacity to stay in games. Out in Dubai, late on we scored one try against USA that was Harlem Globetrotters stuff.”
Fijiana are constantly developing and while Cracknell says some teams may not have expected too much from them this season, they have caught the eye in the last few months – first qualifying for the Olympics and then defeating Canada, Ireland and USA in their pool games in Dubai.
But what fills Cracknell with just as much joy is the fact the team have come through so much hardship before clicking like this. He explains that after a tour these girls go home to a family of up to 14 and must support them with about £180 in their pocket.
“I was going to Fiji with an open mind,” Cracknell continues. “I didn’t know too much about them, but I’ve been lucky enough to see both sides, different cultures, having been with England for so long and then Fiji.
“We are living on a shoestring and are regularly arm-wrestling with finances. We’ve got to do it the hard way. There are no bells and whistles, but I believe we can do something in the Olympics against teams like Australia, Canada and Team GB.”
So who should those teams fear?
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“Our captain, Ana Maria Roqica, is so professional. If she weighs 50kg I’d be amazed, but she flattens girls much bigger. And Litia Naiqato – who’s known as ‘Woman Mountain’ – lives way up in the interior and during pre-season she used to run an hour to get the bus to training, do it, and run an hour back. Five days a week. That’s pretty spectacular.
“A lot’s been made of Rebecca Tavo coming from Australia to put on the jersey, but both girls (Roqica and Naiqato) come from small villages. It really is rags to riches.”