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Fijian Drua Make A Big Super Rugby Statement

  • 3 min read

Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka led tributes after the Fijian Drua beat New Zealand powerhouse the Canterbury Crusaders in Super Rugby Pacific on Saturday, a victory that made a major statement for islander rugby.

For decades, Fijian rugby has been a resource pillaged by other countries but the admission of the Drua to Super Rugby last season finally gave the players of the island nation an elite local pathway in the 15-man game.

Home matches last season were played mostly in Australia because of COVID travel restrictions and in the 14 matches of their inaugural campaign, the Drua managed wins only against fellow strugglers the Melbourne Rebels and Moana Pasifika.

On Saturday, however, they welcomed the reigning champions to Churchill Park on a steamy afternoon in Fiji’s second city of Lautoka and delighted a noisy packed house by securing an historic 25-24 win.

“It’s just an epic feeling like when you’re attacking, we could feel them with the cheers and when we were defending they were there,” captain Tevita Ikanivere said of the crowd after the game.

“It feels so good to bring it home. Full crowd like that and the noise they bring just adds energy to the boys. I think they pushed us through this game today.”

The Crusaders, who had three Fiji-born players in their team, have won 13 Super Rugby titles of various descriptions and have rarely lost more than two matches a season since Scott Robertson took over as coach in 2017.

They thrashed the Drua 61-3 in the first meeting between the teams last May and something similar looked on the cards when they raced to a 12-0 lead early in Saturday’s match.

The Drua did not fold, however, and in a blur of powerful running and offloads scored four unanswered tries from broken play to take a 22-12 lead.

The Crusaders battled back to take a two-point lead with only seconds left on the clock but the Drua kept their nerve and debutant replacement flyhalf Kemu Valetini, brother of Wallabies loose forward Rob, nailed a penalty to trigger pandemonium.

“It shows the growth that we’ve had over the last 12 months, our ability to absorb that, come again and then win the game,” said Drua coach Mick Byrne.

“The boys deserve to enjoy themselves and really accept the fact that they’ve had a great win today.”

In a sight familiar from Fijian successes on the Sevens rugby circuit in recent years, the Drua gathered with the Crusaders in a circle on the pitch after fulltime to sing a hymn, in this case “We have overcome”.

The victory gave the Drua a 2-1 record for the season after their opening round win over Moana in Auckland but Ikanivere said they had to continue to improve, starting with next Sunday’s visit to the Queensland Reds.

“Our discipline let the Crusaders back,” he said. “We have to defend our village better, we have to go back to the drawing board and be better next week.”