The Swire Shipping Fijian Drua have landed in Suva for the historic first ever Super Rugby Pacific game on home soil.
It’s been an amazing journey so far. The squad started to assemble for pre-season training at their Aussie base in Lennox Head back in early November last year. Then on February 18, they took on the Waratahs in the season opener in Sydney.
Now, over two months later, the boys get to play in front of their passionate home fans in Round 11. They’d obviously love to have more than one win to their credit, but if they’re ever going to put in a complete 80-minute performance this is the week to do it.
The Drua are coming off a 17-point loss to the top of the table Blues in Melbourne… but take away the two converted tries the Blues scored from intercepts and who knows what would have happened.
Again, there were very good moments from the Drua at AAMI Park, and their off-loads are starting to stack up. They’ve made 82 off-loads this season and that’s the second most behind the Chiefs.
While this week’s opponent the Highlanders have scored 21 tries, 3 more than the Drua, the Fijians have managed more carries and clear line-breaks than the men from Dunedin.
But the telling stat for me is the Drua’s top spot for ‘defenders beaten’. They’re on 222, the Highlanders just 143. So, if the Drua can improve their execution and score more than just a couple of tries per match on average, they’ll be in with a real chance of chalking up another much-needed win.
The Highlanders will look to expose the Drua’s inconsistent line-out. Tony Brown’s men have the most successful line-out while the Drua are at the bottom of the list.
Some key men were rested last week and if the Drua are to upset the odds and make a late charge into the top 8 and quarter finals, it has to start this week at ANZ Stadium in the nation’s capital.
The Western Force are currently 8th on 13 points but they have a game in hand after being forced to postpone last week’s clash against Moana Pacifika because of Covid cases in the squad.
The Drua are on 6 points and haven’t added to their tally for some weeks now. That’s been frustrating for Coach Byrne and his assistants because they know they can be competitive if they play to their potential.
They’re hoping to break a run of six losses while the Highlanders have won just one of their last 10 Super Rugby games. I took a keen interest in the Highlanders’ effort against the Brumbies in Melbourne and while they didn’t deserve to win, they did have some very good moments.
The locals can’t afford to be slow starters and be chasing the scoreboard early. The Highlanders have experience and are capable of spoiling the Drua’s homecoming.
There is a downside to the Drua’s return home. They’ve been in big demand and there have been distractions like essential public appearances to promote the historic match. It’s important for them to flick the switch and get into game mode well before they head out to ANZ Stadium on Saturday.
Once again Coach Byrne has mixed things up by making multiple changes. Hetet, Nasilasila, Rotuisolia and Miramira are back in the starting pack while Lomani and Tela team up in the halves and Vota, Habosi and Ravutaumada make a welcome return to the starting 15.
This fixture has been 27 years in the making. That’s how long Super Rugby has been running. It’s a huge step for Rugby in the Pacific and it’s going to be an honour to call the action with Sam Wykes and Lailanie Burnes.
Nothing like a bit of history in beautiful Fiji and the news keeps getting better as the final match in the regular season will now be played in Lautoka on May 28.
Watch the Swire Shipping Fijian Drua Live
Broadcast (Super Rugby Pacific Regions): Fiji (FBC, Sky Pacific); Australia (Stan, Nine); New Zealand (Sky TV); Pacific Islands (Digicel)
Broadcast (Rest of World): UK & Ireland (Sky Sports); France (Canal+); Italy (Sky Italia); Southeast Asia (Premier Sports); Japan (Wowow); USA (FloSports); Canada (TSN); South America (ESPN); South Africa (SuperSport); Europe (exc France)/Middle East/China/India (https://sanzaarrugby.tv/)