A galvanized Fijian Drua win has added huge levels of reinforcement to the two expansion teams’ existence in the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific competition.
This Fijian Drua win over the Melbourne Rebels came hours after Moana Pasifika had made their delayed first performance; after Covid-19 disrupted their launch over two rounds. And both teams excelled in different ways.
Victorious on Friday, the big smiles from the Fijian boys delighted rugby fans globally. Many represent their nations already but, the younger men will take this 31-26 win as a gift from above. Some only imagined wins coming in year one, so for head coach Mick Byrne, his remarks “I’m proud about how the boys went about their task,” was probably a reserved reaction to a superb pair of results for Pacifica rugby as a whole.
Moana Pasifika did lose to the Crusaders 12-33 yet the scoreline utterly polished over the performances of the game played. The champion Crusaders had to fight late in the match to retrieve a bonus point, with the majority of the game offering good support for future development of the Moana Pasifika playing group. And that positive energy was seized on by the Drua, who ended up taking victory on the Sunshine Coast.
Using the Sunshine Coast Stadium as their ‘home away from home’ the Fijian Drua win was built on the outcomes of the opening two rounds of the Australian conference games. Split, as border controls internally and externally mean sides could not fly into New Zealand without quarantine at this time, so the Aussies are playing each other in a local derby opening half of the year. And this 31-26 victory was celebrated from Queensland up to Fiji, where fans would have been frolicking in the streets with the positive result.
Considering the troubles that the side had in an upset preseason, with many factors aiming to reduce the Fijian composite side’s impact yet three games in, the Fijian Drua sit well above cellar-dwellers Melbourne, the Western Force, and the Highlanders [who are yet to gain a solitary win]. Not completely surprising though, as the quality of the entire group is well known, as is the coaching staff. It all came to hand on Friday night, with plenty of positives found to motivate the new franchise over the first months of the season.
Galvanized Fijian Drua win brings reinforcement of expansion teams
“We’ve got two players who have Super Rugby experience, so we just have to keep building each week and getting used to turning up the next Monday and going again for the next week,” were the words from Fijian head coach Mick Byrne, as he was describing how his team has been putting in the hard work. Do that, and the rewards will come. Some wouldn’t have seen this win coming quite so early but, their attitude and culture is surely a benefit after three rounds of Super Rugby Pacific.
Captain Meli Derenalagi said the message before the game was ‘just to go outside and enjoy it’. He said postgame; “Even though we went down for first the two games but we need to stand out and try to be competitive for this Super Rugby.”
Regarded as the newcomers in 2022, they faced the Melbourne Rebels who became a Super Rugby franchise in 2011. Over ten seasons (in differing forms) of the domestic competition, it has given much education to the Victorian side and a good grounding yet they are less than fortunate that this team would be the one to fall first to a Fijian Drua win. Not that the game was one-sided, as the match went right to the wire.
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In terms of the game’s standing, it was a high-quality outing, with each team wanting to attack. Some of the Drua’s tries came purely from counter-attacks yet the ability to complete their set task will be of higher value. Like the Crusaders did; in scoring a final try to win the bonus point [a win by 4 or more tries], the Fijian Drua win was a combination of good finishing, as well as taking your opportunities.
Utilizing the available penalty kicks, the new franchise team played smart rugby to earn their first win. Kicking points on offer resulted in a solid foundation of 12 kickable points taken. That was before the three [allowed] tries gave that demonstrated the usual flair and aggressive offense that this side will certainly become well known for. Asked after his side were on the wrong side of a result, Rebels captain Michael Wells made no excuses. “To say it’s unlucky would be disrespectful to the Drua; they played a better game than us in almost every facet,” he said.
A real confidence-boosting win is sure to help in their upcoming schedule of visiting the top-placed Australian conference team, the Reds in Brisbane. That will have been a daunting fixture if not now, that this win will have helped improve the mindset. The clash might not be as mammoth a task as originally perceived, and the galvanized Fijian Drua can bring an opposition for the Brad Thorn-coached Queensland Reds next Saturday.
Fijian Drua 31 – Tries: Ratave, Miramira, Vota, Conversions: Muntz, Tela Penalties: Tela (4)
Rebels 26 – Tries: Tonumaipea 2, Hanson, Nu’u; Cons: To’omua (3)
Moana Pasifika look impressive in loss to Crusaders
Playing a highlight real will more so reward the final score it was just not as clear-cut as 12-33 would suggest. It began well for Moana Pasifika – the side’s first match even after three rounds of competition. So they had something to prove, and it appeared the message was received and acted on.
Crossing the line first is reserved for some of the competitions very best. Few can either have, or hold that advantage against the premier New Zealand franchise. And the Moana Pasifika men would have to sustain two strong attacking attempts from the Crusaders, that a 5-14 halftime score felt elated for Pacifica television fans (as the stadium was near but empty). The Moana Pasifika captain Sekope Kepu said his side played with passion, and if the instructions from Aaron Mauger and Filo Tiatia were taken on board, the intelligence behind the side is just as important as the heart and emotion is.
A superb effort held off the Crusader’s side, with a third try not yet blowing away the Moana Pasifika men’s hearts. They soon claimed a 68th-minute try of their own that prompted warnings from pundits in sports betting agencies. Estimates of 50+ points margins had looked ominous – considering the Pasifika men’s conditioning, after days locked in isolation. It should have played more of a part, if it wasn’t for the behaviors and attitude displayed across the Moana playing 23. Being 12-21 against the multi-time Super Rugby champions, it will have joyed Pacifica rugby fans everywhere. They didn’t want the party to end if it wasn’t for a better team running out to face them. Pasifika boys all looked ready to compete for the whole game, and their attractive type of Super Rugby was on display Friday night.
Forceful radio communication followed all Crusaders’ substitutes, and if the message got through to play to their attributes, they were calculated in selecting the lineout driving maul play. A reward was found when it was needed. With the clock minutes from eroding completely, a penalty against Moana Pasifika saw the kick to the sideline become a successful lineout drive. The reliable Codie Taylor rewarded as ever with another meat pie, it stoked red and black followers’ belief in the champions. Glowing applause due, though it was not the romp many had presumed.
In that theme, Scott ‘Razor’ Robertson admitted that fact when saying; “When we didn’t execute early the defence defended with courage and ferocity,” Robertson said. “We just couldn’t get over that line and execution was poor, we kept them in it.
But in the end, no shrouding of the opponent’s efforts can deny that this opening game looked impressive to all rugby observers. The Moana group seems to have as much talent as others, with belief, faith, and team culture all ensuring that the 2022 season debut is going to remind many of the existing high standards of Pacifica rugby. Endorsed by a strong display and a very first Fijian Drua win, it all reinforces the sides’ presence.
Super Rugby Pacific Round Four: Hurricanes v Moana Pasifika | Reds v Fijian Drua – Saturday, March 12
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