Fijian Drua vs Blues Preview

Image Credit: (Photo by GARY RAMAGE/AFP via Getty Images)

We take a look at first ever match between the Fijian Drua and the Blues to be played in Super Rugby’s Super Round at Aami Park Melbourne.

10 weeks into the Drua’s maiden voyage and what have we learnt? Well for one they still have a long way to go to be consistently competitive at this level and two we just don’t know what their strongest lineup looks like.

The Drua have been about as consistent as head coach Mick Byrne’s selections, and unfortunately consistent in problematic areas of their game.

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What’s with the lineout?

An area that was an issue from Day 1, you would think it would be rectified but it’s still the major concern heading into the second half of the competition. Missed calls, overthrows and just about every which way you could mess it up. The lineouts are operating at 72% across their 8 matches this season with 71 wins from their 102 throw-ins.

Their best effort against the Reds in Round 4, 83% from their 12 lineouts. Of the two lineouts they lost that night, one of them was at the death when Seru Uru overheard their calls and made a big play for the Reds. The Drua followed that up with their worst performance, against the Western Force finishing with 57% from 14 throws.

While it was 1 step forward and 2 steps back for the first 5 rounds, the next 3 matches saw much better, consistent results. 80% against the Rebels in Round 6, 78% in their loss to the Waratahs and 77% against the Brumbies before the bye. So there has been improvement and with an extra week to prepare I’m sure it was at the top of their to-do list.

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Moving on…

When head coach Mick Byrne was first introduced to the Fijian public, he was lauded as a innovative, “outside the box” thinker. Just when we thought he was getting closer to his strongest line-up, he completely bewilders everyone by naming a side that includes a debutant prop, 2 fly-halves not playing fly-half and 4 halfbacks. There’s outside the box and then there’s outside this planet…

But consider this

Against the form team of Super Rugby and going on the Drua’s recent form, realistically it was always going to be a very tough game. Expectations are low and if there’s ever a chance to experiment, it’s in Season 1.

What if the fly-half we have so desperately craved, is not playing fly-half? Could it take something as wild as Byrne selecting Simione Kuruvoli at 10 to unlock something we are yet to see?

One thing is for certain, Byrne would not put Kuruvoli in the General’s seat unless he thinks he can do the job. Maybe he’s seen something in training. The young halfback does have history at fly-half albeit at School level but he’s not completely new to the position. He has also handled everything thrown at him including a Test match against the All-Blacks and if you cast your minds back to round 1, Simione was a real threat with ball in hand but not particularly from the halfback position.

Against the All-Blacks, he called Eroni Sau in from the wing to run onto a perfect inside pass that nearly resulted in a try. I guess what I’m trying to say is although it’s an incredibly risky selection, I will not put it past the man they call “Little David” to tackle another giant.

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The pack

Both ends of the experience spectrum with the veteran Manasa Saulo who starts his first match at tighthead and debutant Meli Tuni at loosehead. A real baptism of fire for the Tailevu native up against the Blues front which has been firing on all cylinders.

Timoci Sauvoli and Jone Koroiduadua will offer relief off the bench but the question must be asked where is Kaliopasi Uluilakepa and Samu Tawake? Earlier in the week Byrne mentioned “everyone was up for selection” which could only mean they are being rested for the historic home match against the Highlanders.

Chris Minimbi is named to start alongside Viliame Rarasea with regular starter Isoa Nasilasila on the substitutes list. Minimbi was named to start against the Brumbies in Round 8 but was a late scratching which would make this his first start. Rarasea was quiet earlier in the season but has slowly started to reveal his power game and offloading ability.

Captain Meli Derenalagi moves back into blindside flanker from number 8 with Rusiate Nasove given his first start. Derenalagi really stepped up at number 8 last match in place of Nemani Nagusa, working tirelessly in defence and at the breakdown causing 2 turnovers and making 3 offloads along with a linebreak and 5 defenders beaten. Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta is at the back of the scrum and will compliment his mobile and athletic flankers. Nasove gets an opportunity to show his ball hunting skills and speed around the park.

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The backline

A big chunk of the Drua’s power game and defensive steel missing with the omissions of Vinaya Habosi and Apisalome Vota. Again another of the selection head-scratchers but we do know what we get from those two players. Kalaveti Ravouvou moves to 13 and Caleb Muntz is at 12, a combination we saw against the Waratahs in Round 7. They will come under heavy pressure from a red hot Blues backline which has the likes of Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Reiko Ioane. Muntz won’t shy away from the bigger players, while he gives away a bit in the size department, he puts everything into his tackles and his ball-playing ability will help the likes of Kuruvoli.

Kitione Taliga, who turns 29 today (Thursday 21st) gets the 15 jersey in his first start in Super Rugby. The Olympic Gold Medallist is a welcomed selection especially in a position that has had no less than 4 Drua players tasked with this season.

Onisi Ratave starts on the left wing leaving Tuidraki Samusamuvodre to man the right. A balanced pairing with Tuidraki having the ability to switch to fullback and also will be used for the Drua exits from their 22. Ratave will have to pick his moments well and use his support runners if he finds himself in space. While he has 4 tries, more than any other Drua player, he also has had a couple other opportunities slip by not passing.

The bench

Leone Nawai who was very impressive in the trial match against the Rebels, finally gets his first opportunity and will relieve Peni Matawalu late in the match. The trend this season has been the reserve scrumhalf has always had the better running with the Drua usually kicking into gear in the final quarter of matches. Jona Mataiciwa covers the centre and fullback positions while Frank Lomani rounds off the bench. He will cover halfback, wing and possibly fly-half.

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Can they win?

Of course they can. We just don’t know what we’re going to get more so this match than any other. The reality is it’s going to be a task tougher than any they have faced in this competition but a new look team and a whole new approach to selection could prove to be just another loss and lesson learned or be the best thing to happen this season.

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Lineup – 1. Meli Tuni* 2. Mesulame Dolokoto 3. Manasa Saulo 4. Chris Minimbi 5.Viliame Rarasea 6.Meli Derenelagi (c) 7. Rusiate Nasove 8. Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta 9. Peni Matawalu 10. Simione Kuruvoli 11. Onisi Ratave 12. Caleb Muntz 13. Kalaveti Ravouvou 14. Tuidraki Samusamuvodre 15. Kitione Taliga
Bench – 16. Zuriel Togiatama 17. Timoci Sauvoli 18. Jone Koroiduadua 19. Isoa Nasilasila 20. Joseva Tamani 21. Leone Nawai* 22. Jona Mataiciwa 23. Frank Lomani
At time of writing the Blues are yet to name their matchday 23.

Blues – 1. Jordan Lay 2. Ricky Riccitelli 3. Nepo Laulala 4. James Tucker 5. Sam Derry 6. Tom Robinson 7. Adrian Choat 8. Hoskins Sotutu 9. Taufa Funaki 10. Beauden Barrett (c) 11. AJ Lam 12. Roger Tuivasa-Sheck 13. Reiko Ioane 14. Mark Telea 15. Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens
Bench – 16. Soane Vikena 17. Karl Tu’inukuafe 18. Marcel Renata 19. Luke Romano 20. Anton Segner 21. Lisati Milo-Harris 22. Tanielu Tele’a 23. Jock McKenzie

What do you think?

How do you think this team will fare against the Blues on Saturday? Leave a comment below and join in the conversation. TOSO DRUA!

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