Super Rugby Pacific: Time for redemption for the Fijian Drua

It is redemption time.

Twelve months ago, the Crusaders buried the Fijian Drua’s hopes in the mud, with a massive 49-8 scoreline in the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific quarterfinals.

This year, the Drua side avenged that loss, beating the former defending champions 20-10 at Churchill Park in Lautoka in March.

That win also contributed to the Crusaders’ worst losing run in the history of Super Rugby, ultimately seeing the side out of the quarterfinals this year.

This weekend, the Fijian Drua line up against the Blues at Eden Park in their second consecutive quarterfinal in two years.

It is a record for the franchise, who along with Moana Pasifika, only joined the competition in 2022.

The Nadi-based franchise finished eighth last year.

This time around they are going into the last eight as the seventh placed team.

A lot is going on for the side also.

Head coach Mick Byrne, who has been with the side since 2022, has already been appointed head coach of the Flying Fijians.

But he has remained at the helm with the Drua – something some unhappy Fiji rugby critics believe is not a good move for the game in the country, especially since the two teams have different commitments and demands.

His assistant and former player/referee Glen Jackson is taking over as head coach.

While the club has made improvement on their standing following the regular season, there are still some strong opinions voiced by rugby critics back home on how the team has been inconsistent, especially not being able to win any away game this season.

Kemu Valetini and Isaiah Washington-Ravula training with the Drua in preparation for the Blues quarterfinal clash. Photo: Fijian Drua

The fact that Byrne and Jackson still have not been able to decide on what is their best lineup in the last three years has also raised some concerns within the Fijian rugby fraternity on whether the two coaches really know what they are doing.

But all that aside, Byrne said the Drua have an equal chace, just like the Blues, to win Saturday’s big battle.

While he acknowledges the fact that the Blues, with part Fijian Hoskins Sotutu amongst their big power-players this season, are hot favourites to win, Byrne said Drua can cause an upset if they start strong, stay in the game and chase their opportunities throughout the 80 minutes.

He said the side showed in their win over the Rebels in Lautoka last weekend that they can handle the pressure and come back to win well.

There is no tomorrow, he said, and they just need to throw everything into the game.

“We just gonna gear up and get ourselves that sort of that physical start on Saturday,” he told media.

“A lot of people outside our environment are saying the Blues will win. We also want to win. We will need to start well, stay consistent and keep going.

“What I really enjoyed [last] Saturday was that when we got behind we stuck to it and got ourselves back into the game and when the game was up for the offering we chased it.

“That’s what we gotta do on Saturday.”

Head coach Mick Byrne

Bryne said they will need to be physical against the Blues and retain possession that they can use to score and get points.

The lack of possession was a sore thumb that stood out in their first clash against the Blues earlier this season, he said.

“We are looking forward to putting our physicality on display this weekend. We have been working on it throughout the season and showed some of that last weekend.

“There was a period of time there where we didn’t have the ball for about 16 minutes. It’s hard to win a game of footy when you don’t have the ball.

“Basically, hanging on to the ball and maintaining our possession would be a good start for us.”

The Blues fans are expected to cram into Eden Park and Byrne is hopeful Fijians around Auckland and the North Island would turn up to cheer them on.

He said local fans have always backed them in Suva and Lautoka, something that has always lifted the boys when they play at home.

“Our players really look forward to hearing you and it’s easy to hear our supporters, they’re great,” Byrne said.

“I know for those of you staying behind and watching it on the TV, I know our players will take you love and support into Auckland and they will do everything they can for you.”

He has made just one change to the starting lineup that defeated the Rebels last weekend.

Prop Livai Natave starts the game, in his first quarterfinal appearance.

Finlay Christie and Blues team celebrate a try by Hoskins Sotutu of the Blues. Photo: Photosport

Blues name strong lineup to meet Drua

Meanwhile, the Blues have named their strongest lineup available to battle the Fijians.

The franchise said Akira Ioane, Dalton Papali’i and Hoskins Sotutu continue their combination as one of the competition’s most imposing loose forward trios.

Former Flying Fijians coach Vern Cotter says the Drua side will be tough and they need to be prepared.

He said his side will need to be on the spot with their game.

“There’s no tomorrow if you lose these games so we need to be accurate, disciplined and clear in what we want to achieve against the Drua,” was the message from Vern Cotter that accompanied the team naming.

“We know the Drua will bring a physical presence to the occasion; they always do. This week is about preparing ourselves mentally for a bruising encounter and ensuring we’re in the right headspace come Saturday night,” he said.

Cotter emphasised how much support the team have felt from recent crowds, and called for more of the same in the playoffs.

“A big, loud and passionate crowd really does lift the team,” he said.

“It was great having lots of fans there to welcome us off the bus at Gate A and to hear all 22,000 of them getting behind the team was special.”

“Hopefully our people can return to Eden Park on Saturday night for some finals footy – we’ll be doing everything we can to put on a good show.”

The game will kick off at 7.05pm on Saturday.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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