Kiti Ratu of the Fijian Drua

Fijian Drua vs Rebels Trial Preview

Image Credit: Stephen Tremain

With the Drua’s first trial hours away, we thought we’d take a closer look at the side and what we can expect.

Firstly, let’s temper our expectations. We must put things into perspective. We must give our boys the time to find their feet in this competition, one of if not the strongest provincial/club competitions in the world. Rome certainly wasn’t built in a day, and it certainly wasn’t taken in a day.

They have already achieved so much, remarkably in the space of 10 months the coaching staff have brought together a squad that is 40 something men deep, got them physically ready and tonight face their first true test in what it means to compete at this level.

Coaching approach

What seems to be a growing trend with foreign coaches coaching Fijian teams is not to remove their instinctive play and natural flair but to “sharpen the axe” as former Sevens coach Ben Ryan puts it. Mick Byrne has come into camp with an open mind, given his assistants freedom to instil some of their own philosophies and coaching styles as they all work towards a common goal, and that is to get this group of talented young men ready for the storm that awaits.

Credit – Stephen Tremain

The opposition

Burn City, Ashwood, Rebels, there seems to be a theme here. Melbourne, on the back of a big preseason are itching to get stuck into the Drua. Rebels hooker Jordan Uelese says “All the boys can’t wait to rip in and welcome Fijian Drua to Burn City,” furthermore their GM of Rugby Nick Stiles added “It’s been a long pre-season and our players have worked really hard and have not skipped any steps in their preparation,”.

The Rebels were heavily criticised last year for their lack of positive play and would often keep the scores close without ever looking like winning. We should expect a rejuvenated Melbourne side willing to throw a little bit more caution to the wind.

But enough about them

This trial more than anything will serve as an indicator on where the Drua stand, give the young squad an opportunity to test their defensive structures and establish some combinations.

A powerful and athletic front row of Jone Koroiduadua and Samu Tawake are on either side of hooker Tevita Ikanivere. They will get a fair slice of scrummaging action given trial matches are laden with errors as teams knock some of the cobwebs out. If the Drua are to stay competitive then it all starts here. The front row rotation includes veteran Manasa Saulo and virtual unknowns looking to make an impact in Timoci Sauvoli and Jone Tiko while test hooker Mesulame Dolokoto will share the workload with Ikanivere. Our depth will be tested in this department as the match rolls into the second and third 30 minutes but it does give the lesser likes of Sauvoli and Tiko a chance to prove themselves.

Youth and Exuberance

The back row boasts some of our best prospects and an area where it’s very hard to pick who exactly will line up in round 1. The most experienced is Viliame Rarasea who has been named as a substitute. Starting tonight is an exciting pairing of Ratu Rotuisolia and Isoa Nasilasila. Rotuisolia brings aggression and physicality and will make those tough carries over the gain line. Nasilasila will be our best lineout target and offers speed and athleticism in attack. They offer a great one-two punch and both are ball carrying threats who can also dominate in defense.

Credit- Fijian Drua

The non-starters are Soro Tuifagalele who is probably the least known of the locks and backrowers but comes highly regarded and will look to put his best foot forward. Chris Minimbi has been knocking on the door for a while now and one of our best local players. He is one of the fittest players in the squad and will have a big part to play in the Drua’s maiden season. He just turned 22 but has already worn the Fiji jersey at all levels. Rarasea adds his experience and could possibly close out the match. He has the ability to play at flanker as does Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta who could give skipper Nemani Nagusa a spell. Cirikidaveta is coming off a big season with Tasman in the NPC and his versatility to play anywhere from lock to number 8 will be come in very handy.

The selection of Meli Derenalagi and Kitione Salawa Jnr should have you excited. So much potential and to be given the task as starting flankers in the Drua’s first trial speaks volumes of the impression they have made in the short time frame they were afforded but also the faith the coaching staff have in the young duo. Both mobile, agile with high workrates. They will pressure the opposing fly half all day and their work at the breakdown will be crucial with Salawa in particular the renown ball hunter.

Rusiate Nasove will add his big frame later in the match and is another big ball carrying threat as is Joseva Tamani who covers lock and flanker. Vilive Miramira covers flanker and Number 8 and like the other loose forwards in the team is mobile and gets through a lot of work.

These forwards scream workrate, mobility and agility. A real area of strength in the squad who compliment the front row very well.

Credit – Baden Kerr

General Kerr

Chief playmaker and shot caller for the start of the match will be Baden Kerr as we have all probably expected. A lot falls on his shoulders including the crucial exits from our own half, general kicking and making sure the ball gets to the correct channels.

He is not short for options out wide with a few thoroughbred’s to pick from including blockbusting centres Kalaveti Ravouvou and Apisalome Vota. Kerr will look to establish a disciplined attack and control the tempo of the match so the team don’t stray too far from the gameplan. The selections of sizeable centres Ravouvou and Vota point to a power game, dominating the collisions out wide and playing off the back of their momentum with a hope for selective, second phased play.

Napolioni Bolaca is the wildcard that we’re all excited to see. His instinctive play and ability to play what’s in front of him could be the key to finding holes in the defense if the game does open up. The Sevens star could be used at fullback with Kerr or Caleb Muntz as the 10 and is the perfect player chiming in from the back.

Embed from Getty Images

Muntz has battled injury for better part of the past 12 months but got through the inner-house trial last weekend and will continue the work by Kerr when given his opportunity. Muntz has long been seen as the heir apparent to Ben Volavola and this match will serve as a major milestone in getting back his full bill of health and confidence.

As expected Simi Kuruvoli gets first claim in the 9 jersey. He will look to get quick ball to our rolling pack and mobile forwards steaming into the ball in those tight corridors looking to gain every yard. Peni Matawalu is a spark of the bench and will take advantage of tired legs with his running game. Leone Nawai doesn’t come with the resume of Kuruvoli or Matawalu but is a seasoned player who has a solid kicking game and is a nightmare for defenses in broken play.

Credit – Stephen Tremain

The Flyers

Size, power, pace. Vinaya Habosi has the ability to get his hands free and is a tough man to bring down. He has the potential to take Super Rugby by storm and if given a bit of room it will be lights out. Kitione Ratu is another exciting prospect who has the kind of speed to finish off any backline move and his height offers the playmakers a cross-field kick option in attacking situations. He has experience at fullback so his positioning will be sound and has a knack of finding the tryline.

Tino at fullback

All reports coming out of last weeks inhouse trial was how impressive Selestino Ravutaumada was. Through his travels he has come through the New Zealand Warriors and Waikato recently in the NPC and now finds himself on the verge of a starting position in Round 1 of Super Rugby 2022. His speed and footwork have always been his greatest assets but now seems to have bulked up and is willing to take on the line just as much as he is to run around it.

Credit – Stephen Tremain

His selection at fullback makes him a genuine threat all over the park and will keep inside defenders honest. His combination with Kerr could force Byrne’s hand in round 1 selections.

Expect the backs to get a lot more action with only Seru Vularika and Napolioni Bolaca selected as backline cover. The backs could be shuffled around during the match with Vularika covering a number of positions. Bolaca could get a stint at fullback as will Vularika at inside centre.

What would be a win

A young, energetic side full of size, power, pace, flair and potential. A fit side, competing for all three parts of the match in the set piece and having a defensive structure that can withstand pressure would be a win in my book.

No coverage

Sadly there is no planned live stream for this match. In this day and age it is seriously not good enough. Whoever that task falls to could and should do better. Hopefully there’s a late announcement regarding video coverage.

Join in the conversation

I will be attending the game myself and looking for where we stand on the finer parts like the scrums and lineouts, and defensive structures. Join in the conversation and leave a comment below on your thoughts leading up to the game. Vinaka

Forwards- Jone Koroiduadua, Tevita Ikanivere, Samu Tawake, Ratu Rotuisolia, Isoa Nasilasila, Meli Derenalagi, Kitione Salawa, Nemani Nagusa (c)
Backs – Simione Kuruvoli, Baden Kerr, Vinaya Habosi, Kalaveti Ravouvou, Apisalome Vota, Kitione Ratu, Selestino Ravutaumada
Bench – Mesulame Dolokoto, Timoci Sauvoli, Manasa Saulo, Chris Minimbi, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, Peni Matawalu, Caleb Muntz, Serupepeli Vularika, Napolioni Bolaca, Rusiate Nasove, Joseva Tamani, Sorovakatini Tuifagalele, Viliame Rarasea, Leone Nawai, Vilive Miramira, Jone Tiko.
See lineup artwork

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