Fan favourites Fijian Drua securing their first-ever Super Rugby Pacific playoff berth is an important step for the game. In so much that reality has matched the expectation – and not without a prolonged wait.
Only in their second foundation season as a franchise, the long wait by Fijian rugby fans and supporters of Pacifica rugby has been proven right. The Fijian Drua deserve their place in the Southern Hemisphere competition. They will now appear in the 2023 playoffs after securing a position within the top eight.
To the delight of supporters across the Pacific, another win in front of the home crowd against the Reds last Saturday saw fan favourites Fijian Drua earn a quarterfinal match-up against the Crusaders. Remarkedly, a team the ‘Drua can proudly say that they have already beaten in 2023!
2️⃣ Memorable wins
1️⃣ More this Saturday
🚨 Let's Sell‐Out Suva
— Fijian Drua (@Fijian_Drua) May 28, 2023
While knockout rugby is a speciality for hosts the multi-time champion Crusaders, that is not to say that on Saturday night another miracle could not happen. With their hearts worn proudly on their sleeves, anything is possible. ‘Toso Drua’ indeed.
Fan favourites Fijian Drua secure first-ever Super Rugby playoff berth
Introduced to Super Rugby Pacific after the pandemic and departing South African sides had made spaces available for both the Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika teams. Earned, as much as they were provided the opportunity, the side would remain based in Australia in their maiden season, 2022. Yet this season has finally seen a full calendar of fixtures at Suva and in neighbouring Lautoka. On massive occasions they sold out on every date, and showed stakeholders that the wait was well worth it.
Fijian Drua opened their season with a win over Moana Pasifika, and by Round Three, claimed the biggest scalp of all – defeating the Crusaders 25-24 in Lautoka. A massive achievement, it has been topped by home wins over the Hurricanes, Rebels, and Reds to name a few. Great achievements, all positioning the Drua higher on the table than either Australian conference foes the Western Force or the Melbourne Rebels. Well deserved, and driven by a style that has both the enthusiasm of Pacifica rugby and a solid grounding of professional rugby union.
Welcome to your Super Stage 🏆
— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) June 4, 2023
Head coach Mick Byrne set in place the fundamentals, while never discouraging the open-play Fijians are famous for. The ability to throw miracle passes, skills that see locks play like inside centers. Where attacking kicks are chased hard, and the reward has often been in territory where innovative set play brought rewards.
Now into playoff territory, one aspect must now be given more importance; defence. And not just in man-on-man defensive play, but in the ability to identify opposition team’s tactics early. A key to their survival further into the competition, if they gain parity against the Crusaders first up, that will help their attempt to win away from home.
Is this the toughest occasion faced by fan favourites Fijian Drua? Of course it is. No other games have held the same status. The type of reward on offer – a semi-final spot (or even further progress in 2023) is up for grabs. An opportunity not taken by four other professional franchises, so this Pacifica group must grab it with both hands.
Note: the men can take great heart from how their female teammates from the Fijiana Drua in the Australian Super W competition. Won by the women last month, it was a phenomenal achievement. A huge motivation for their men to emulate.
Preparation is pivotal for Fijian Drua to progress any further
Many teams are defeated well before they walk out onto Orangetheory Stadium in Christchurch. The aura of the Crusaders, their supporters and the successful history all conspiring to reduce the away team’s presence. So what must the Fijian Drua do differently?
Firstly, they could treat it like any other game. Not consider it a quarter-final, call it a series of games. One where the first match builds momentum. And after their well-played victory against the Reds, a momentum that can roll onwards if the squad adapts quickly.
Counter the conditions by not worrying about the things they cannot control. The weather, the ground conditions, or the referee. None of these can be guaranteed – especially the weather. So no matter if it is 25 degrees in Suva, or 15 degrees in Christchurch, disregard those elements, and focus on the ball in players’ hands. On the physical qualities that individuals bring. And the side has the quality men who can repeat past successes, when they have fully focused on what is achievable.
Learn from others, who have defeated the Crusaders in 2023. Note how the Chiefs won twice, what the Hurricanes did well last week, that ended Scott Robertson’s side’s rise to second on the Super Rugby table. Good homework could pay off for the visitors. Maintaining a full complement of men is also key. Discipline and focus should be keywords pinned up in the training room.
Do all those things well, and the joy on fans’ faces will remain for one more week. The wide smiles that has been a highlight for observers across the Globe. Reinforcing the financial backing of World Rugby, and confirming what many had called for years before. A Pacifica team would repay their introduction to Super Rugby. And this playoff place is proof of that.
Proof that the will of the people should be recognized, as much as broadcasting revenues. The game deserves to remain in the hands of the people (see above image), and Fijian Drua are truly fan favourites and now, quarter-finalists in 2023.
“Main photo credit Fijian Drua facebook“