Ben Ryan: Hollywood and British Lions beckon for Fiji's rugby hero?

Story highlights

  • Ben Ryan led Fiji to Olympic sevens gold
  • In talks with movie bosses over his story
  • Says he is looking after his ex-players
  • Ryan: "Fiji will forever be in my heart"

(CNN)How do you follow Olympic gold?

In the five months since Fiji's historic sevens triumph in Rio de Janeiro, it has been all change for the team's former coach Ben Ryan.
    The post-Games adulation was such that he required a police escort outside his Fijian home to deal with the great swathes of well-wishers.
    Ryan has since left his job and the island paradise where he spent three years, moving 16,000 kilometers across the other side of the world to write a book with the prospect of the silver screen beckoning.
    "Fiji will forever be in my heart," the 45-year-old tells CNN from his London home just two miles from the home of rugby at Twickenham. "I don't know how I'll coach a team against Fiji."

    Leaving a legacy

    Already, the remarkable tale of Fiji's first Olympic medal of any kind has been partially told in a 17-minute feature entitled "Rugby from Heaven," released by World Rugby's main sevens sponsor HSBC. But a wider story could be set for release on the big screen.
    Last month Ryan met filmmakers -- backed with money from China -- who want to tell his story in movie theaters. As for who might play him, he tends to get the same response due to his bright crop of red hair.
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    "I don't know but a lot of people have said Damian Lewis -- I guess that's the obvious one," Ryan says.
    But perhaps his biggest quest is a legacy for the players he has left behind, and the families that rely on them.
    Money has often been a problem for Pacific Island teams, and Ryan has used his Twitter page to highlight the fact the Fiji players had not been paid for three months since their contracts expired after August's Olympics -- leading to a backlash from the rugby authorities back in Fiji.
    "It's amazing really it was kept quiet they hadn't been paid for this long," he says. "This is one of the most iconic sporting teams on the planet at their zenith, and that needs to be passed on to the team.
    "I feel like 100% I have a responsibility to these guys, but not just them but their wives and families. Many of these players turned down overseas contracts to pursue this. I hope I can fight for the boys now I'm away from the program."
    The Fiji Rugby Union said in a statement that the players had been paid "relevant allowances" for last month's opening two tournaments of the world series, and that new contracts would be awarded once Ryan's replacement -- Welshman Gareth Baber -- takes charge this month and evaluates the squad.
    While not quite going cap in hand, Ryan has made it a mission to highlight the players' plight. At the opening Dubai leg of the series, he says he received $12,000 from one wealthy fan of the team, while another has agreed to pay for the players' families' flights and accommodation to attend next season's event in the emirate.
    "It's just a small snapshot into what can be done," Ryan says.
    He has watched his former team up close in the opening two rounds of the series -- Fiji lost in the Dubai final and finished fifth in Cape Town -- but says he is a woeful, if very audible spectator.
    "In Dubai, I was just screaming and shouting," he says. "I was just this crazy white man in the stands!"

    Next mission: Topple the All Blacks?

    So what now for Ryan? He is not 100% sure. There is consultancy work, as well as a role with HSBC for the Sevens World Series, which Fiji won for the past two seasons under his leadership.
    But there are jobs in the offing, talk of a possible switch back to coaching in the 15-a-side game -- where he first made a name for himself with his brand of attacking rugby -- and even a potential role in Warren Gatland's backroom staff for this year's British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.
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    He says one "UK club in the top flight" has already come calling for his services, but the job "wasn't quite the right fit" and wasn't ready to go full-time. The Lions, though, appeals and he says his representatives have had talks with head coach Gatland. Whether that comes to fruition is another matter.
    "I'd love to show him what I can do in XVs," says Ryan, whose outside-the-box thinking, one suspects, would appeal to the New Zealander. "It's funny if people have doubts about me in XVs, as they had doubts of me in sevens when I came from XVs.
    "Hopefully I'll get in front of him in the next few weeks and give him my views on how to break down the All Blacks. I don't think I'm a risk as I've worked at a high level for a long time.
    "I've coached against most of that All Blacks back line either in sevens or else junior rugby, and I watched every weekend of Super Rugby back in Fiji. I think it would work well for both parties."

    Reflecting on Rio

    Leaving Fiji has pulled at Ryan's heart strings, though he will return this month -- with a new tattoo on his arm saying "Vei Lomani" (love one another) -- for a wedding and to catch up with friends.
    However, even as England's wintery weather takes hold, he believes he made the right decision.
    "I do miss Fiji, it's an easy place to become addicted to, but my wife and I decided that was that, it was time to go," he adds. "I wanted to move on to something else. It was the right time to leave."
    Whatever Ryan does next, he knows he will forever be remembered both in Fiji and abroad for that Olympic gold and the brand of attacking rugby that blew away the team's rivals.
    In the final, Great Britain was swatted away 43-7 -- a virtually unheard of scoreline, particularly at the business end of a sevens tournament -- and the celebrations began long before the final whistle in Rio.
    "We had pressure but only because we were probably in the best shape ever," Ryan says. "We were in the state of mind that we would win, and I could see they were in the right state going into that final, I didn't have to say anything at all.
    "Sevens can turn very quickly but it was clear after five minutes Great Britain were beaten, and then we were 29-0 at halftime."
    And then the celebrations began, on the pitch, in the stands and perhaps most noticeably back at home.
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    The return to Fiji was, he says, a case of "getting on a train and just riding it -- I loved every minute of it." People would queue up at his house, with a police car outside it on most days.
    "Before, people left us alone at home, but after Rio it was different -- not bad, just different," Ryan recalls. "People just wanted to bring us gifts and congratulations. It was a bit of a glass fishbowl. It was nice to see what it meant to everyone."
    With such adulation, the goodbyes were tough -- but part of him believes he might yet find himself back in Fiji in another role one day.
    He knows the timing was right: "I needed to take a step back, I needed a break."
    But amid book and film deals, he is ready to get back to what he knows best -- coaching.