They are what Ben Ryan, the English coach of the Fiji sevens team, half-jokingly refers to as "third-world problems". Like going six months without pay when he started. Or driving through the countryside to discover one of his star players going hammer and tongs in a match for his village when he was supposed to be resting. Or being mobbed whenever he pops down the supermarket.

"In Fiji you have to be prepared for anything because, like the weather, you will get sunshine and blue skies and then bang you get hit with a really bad storm," Ryan said. "It is the same with Fijian rugby. Everything is fine and then suddenly bang: something will happen that will turn you inside out. You have to ride out the storm and the sunshine will return. From a coaching perspective, it has been brilliant experience. No day is ever the same."

Ryan struggles to convey exactly how big sevens is as a sport in Fiji. The nearest parallel he can draw is to look at what football means to Brazilians. "Then add a few per cent on top of that," Ryan says. One example he provides is that a call-up to the sevens team supersedes military service.

Before each leg of Sevens World Series, Fiji's two national newspapers carry a minimum of 12 pages of coverage. Every offload, tackle and try will then be dissected on the main bulletin of the evening news. "Before we board the plane to go to the Hong Kong sevens, we are told, 'You must win Hong Kong, don't even think about coming home if you don't'," Ryan said.

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So far at least, Ryan has avoided demands for his head on a spike after delivering the 2015 and 2016 World Seven Series, which have both sparked official national holidays, although he points out that "no one goes to work" the day after any tournament victory. It means that Fiji, who have never won a medal of any shade, enter the Olympics as favourites for a gold medal.

In the early part of Ryan's tenure, his team could not afford the petrol for the team bus or even water for training sessions. Now the government has doubled the team's funding to around £450,000, which is still less than a quarter of what some other teams operate on. "The government has backed us this year because they see the gold medal as having all sorts of ripple effects on the economy," Ryan said. "And they are right. It will put the country on the map. Fiji is this small island in the middle of the Pacific.

"They would have this moment where most of the rugby world and most of the sports world would be fixated on that Olympic final. If Fiji won, it would fill them with immense pride. They are a happy nation and proud but it would give them even more happiness. As a third-world nation it is a big goal to aspire to. We are not without our problems in Fiji but if you can have role models that are winning gold medals and showing that they can be the best in the world against teams with vastly bigger budgets and resources that can make a huge difference to the nation and to the kids. It would start a legacy, not just for rugby but for this hugely athletic nation."

Even with the extra funding no player becomes rich playing for Fiji. Their central contracts are worth about £5,000 a year. Even accounting for the lower cost of living in an island, players will still be relied upon to support their extended families, particularly since the island was devastated by the strongest cyclone in its history in February. More than 40,000 homes were destroyed and 44 people died, yet all bar one player, who lost his home, turned up to training a couple of days later.

"They are so resilient our boys and I think Pacific Islanders as a whole take the attitude that we didn't have much to begin with so let's just get on with it," Ryan said.

Virtually every player in the squad comes from humble origins. Jerry Tuwai, the half-back, learnt to play on a roundabout as that was the only patch of grass in one of Suva's roughest districts. Masivesi Dakuwaqa, who is blind in one eye, was an airport security guard when he was spotted by Ryan.

"They are literally all like that," Ryan said. "It is a very humbling experience to go to see where they live and see how much it means to them and their families. They are so proud of their boys and being national heroes."

The absence of formal coaching in childhood is both a blessing in the outrageous offloads that playing on a beach with a sand-filled bottle creates and a curse in the lack of fitness and structure. Ryan, who was England coach from 2007 to 2013, claims he already had an islander mentality in terms of how he wanted to play the game, but where he has made changes is instilling discipline. Food portions are strictly controlled by Ryan, phones have to be handed in for the duration of tournaments and breathalyser tests administered afterwards.

"We have dropped a number of star players over the last three years for behaviour that we have not found acceptable," Ryan said. "They know if they cross the line and have a drink after a tournament or miss a training session then they are out. That's making them face the consequences of their actions. You can't protect them. Too many times in the UK you try to protect players when they should be made to learn from their mistakes. I wish I had done it more with England."

Sevens is far more liable to upsets than XVs, which is why Ryan accepts Fiji's No 1 status will count for little in Rio. Still, it is a curious state of affairs that the favourites operate with an underdog mentality in their search of immortality.

"The guys will be remembered forever if they bring that gold home," Ryan said. "They will get lambs. They will get statues. They will be made ministers. The party will last until 2017."