What a performance and what an achievement from the Fijian Drua.
But before we get carried away, lets look at some of the takeaways from yesterday’s 28-26 win against the Rebels.
A perfect fit
Whoever decided to sign Baden Kerr needs a tap on the back. The 32 year old fly-half is not only a smooth operator, he is the perfect fit for the Drua. Cool, calm, collected and never seems phased.
Clean exits, crisp passing and seems to have been drinking some Fiji Water because several of his offloads would make Pio Tuwai proud. A willingness to play at the line and keep the ball alive and knows when to throw it to his outside men.Embed from Getty Images
The Set Piece
While I have no statistics to back it up, the set piece was a tick. Not perfect but far from bad. A couple scrum penalties and a few other occasions the Rebels put a good shove on, the ball was quickly cleared by the Drua number 8. They even managed to force penalties of their own and in the end I would call it even between the two packs.
Isoa Nasilasila was amazing at the lineouts. Got up every time and secured the pill. When the Drua kept it simple at the lineout it was an easy grab but when they started switching it up things got a little complicated and messy but that’s to be expected and will come good in time. Again, they managed to steal a few of their own and the Rebels were not any better.
Naca Cawanibuka and his athletic department have done a tremendous job getting the team in tip-top shape. They were there for the full 90 minutes and never looked like fading. When the intensity picked up, they did too and maintained it for most of the match.
Nothing but Gold
Ratu Meli Derenalagi already has Gold in his cabinet. And to be honest I tagged him with the “longer term prospect” card but I will happily eat humble pie. He is ready now and what I witnessed yesterday was all gold too. Bulked up and looking as fit as ever, tackling anything that moved. His footwork at the line allowed him to get between tacklers and get over the advantage line.
Making a big impact off the bench was Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta. As we saw with Tasman last season he knows only one way, straight and hard. His powerful carries will be a huge asset to the Drua in their first season. Constantly hitting it up, dominating the collision, getting his team on the front foot.Embed from Getty Images
Taking his opportunity
Many would have Leone Nawai third on the halfback depth chart before the match. His injection into the match was a game changer creating several opportunities and as I mentioned in the preview, is a nightmare for the defence in broken play. He was instrumental in getting the Drua back from 12 points down leaving Mick Byrne with a real headache is to which two halfbacks he takes into round 1.
Nemani Nagusa is a natural leader. His calm demeanour despite the chaos around him at times really proves his leadership credentials. And his game? Well don’t let his age fool you he was in everything including creating half breaks with offloads and defensively led the way.
Speaking of the defence..
Well 4 tries/26 points under competition rules gives away a bonus point and doesn’t really say “great defence” but the scoreboard doesn’t reflect the attitude and commitment the Drua displayed without the ball. They kept turning up and their scramble defence forced the Rebels to keep it tight and look for points through their rolling maul. Without having the benefit of a replay I recall 3 opposition tries from rolling mauls and 1 from an intercept.
There were periods throughout the match where the Rebels sustained pressure at the Drua line but the defence kept fronting up, several times forcing errors as we witnessed in the final try.
It started getting a little sloppy late in the match with players falling off tackles, rushing up and missing their man but they got it together and rallied to give themselves a chance at a comeback.
Work in progress
The negative is there were many opportunities missed through a penalty close to the line, a wayward final pass or offload, building pressure and not converting it into points. But the big positive is they did build pressure. They asked a lot of questions of the opposition defence and once they get the combinations right, have a more settled side, points will start flowing.
On the flipside they went a little sideways at times without a straight runner or decoys. Again, combinations take time but one area that will be a feature this year is the Drua’s counter attack and broken field play. The second try was a beautiful show of Fijian flair through several sets of hands off a kick return and Kitione Ratu scoring under the posts. The winning try off a dropped ball metres out from their own tryline. With the Rebels looking to put the game to bed they shifted wide to their own Fijian flyer Ilikena Vudogo who raced down the sideline with a try looking likely only for the final pass to hit the deck.Embed from Getty Images
Caleb Muntz picked up the pill and threw it to Mesulame Dolokoto who is no stranger to these situations, knew exactly what to do and kindly delivered the final pass to Vinaya Habosi who raced away to score under the sticks. Giving Muntz an easy kick for the lead.
This was their very first test, their first trial… and its much further than anyone could seriously expect them to be if you consider the timeframe they had and the lack of experience within the squad. But if this performance is anything to go by, then strap yourselves in because 2022 is going to be a hell of a ride.
A wonderful job by all involved and although just the start, with another step up expected next week, the building blocks are there for a bright and prosperous future for our beloved Fijian Drua
Drop a line
If you managed to catch any of the live streams floating around Facebook then give us your thoughts on the match. Drop a comment below and join in the coversation.
Fijian Drua 28-26 Melbourne Rebels
Tries: T.Ikanivere, K.Ratu, T.Sauvoli, V.Habosi
Conv: B.Kerr 2, C.Muntz 2
Interviews with Captain Nemani Nagusa and Coach Mick Byrne are below courtesy of Fijian Drua.