How do the Drua look to shape up against the NSW Waratahs second time around? Greg Clark gives his take as well as takeaways from the loss against the Rebels.
There’s a stat doing the rounds highlighting the Fijian Drua’s poor starts in their 6 matches so far, and it doesn’t make good reading. The Drua are yet to score a try in the opening 20 minutes of games.
Head Coach Mick Byrne has pointed out that it would have been very different if his side hadn’t butchered try scoring opportunities early in games. But he admits the poor starts are the side’s achilles heel and they can’t afford to be chasing the scoreboard every week.
Of all the games so far, last week’s loss to the Melbourne Rebels was the most disappointing for Byrne. They knew the Rebels would come out firing and they had to match their physicality.
It wasn’t to be. Melbourne got on top early and despite some moments of brilliance from the Drua in the second half as usual, they just couldn’t peg back a big deficit.
Despite focusing on the set piece at training all week, the scrum and line out were problems. Collectively the forwards didn’t turn up on the night and while he wasn’t prepared to name names, Byrne says some individuals are making poor decisions at times.
So how does Byrne plan to fix the slow starts? With a smile on his face, he said he would run them ragged for 20 or 40 minutes in an adjacent park before kick-off. That way they might be ready to hit theirs straps early.
But seriously, he wants the players to realise that they can compete for the 80 minutes. Fire the first shot and believe in yourself. There are still pre-match nerves because Super Rugby is new to most of the squad, but hopefully things are about to change.
Again, the main focus this week has been on being more physical and better with their carries. Since the Round 3 victory over the Rebels there’s been a real energy on the training paddock. Players are prepared to listen and learn, but they don’t put it all together in games.
Understanding their roles is the key to beating the NSW Waratahs on the Gold Coast on Friday night. The Tahs ran in five tries to one in Round One in Sydney, winning 40 to 10. The Drua have been more competitive since then, but they can’t give a top 8 team a big start this week.
Wallabies captain Michael Hooper will make his long-awaited return to Super Rugby after a foot injury and a pre-arranged extended break. His presence in the match day 23 is a huge boost for the Tahs. And Hooper has been impressed with the side’s improvement this season.
The Drua welcome Mesulame Dolokoto, Samuela Tawake, Isoa Nasilasila and Kitione Salawa back to the starting pack. The Frank Lomani and Teti Tela combination in the halves continues, while Caleb Muntz starts at 12 with Kalaveti Ravouvou moving to outside centre.
That’s a new centre pairing and they’ll have their hands full trying to contain Lalakai Foketi and Izaia Perese from the Tahs. Tuidraki Samusamuvodre gets a run-on debut on the right wing with the impressive Vinaya Habosi starting on the left wing for the 7th game in a row. Kitione Ratu retains the number 15 jersey.
The Drua’s preparation has been far from ideal with the team having to evacuate from their Lennox Head base because of the flooding earlier in the week. They won’t be returning ‘home’ for at least another week or so.
But they won’t be using that as an excuse. This year was always going to throw up challenges and they’re doing their best to meet them head-on each week.
While there’s still tough games against the Waratahs, Brumbies and Blues to come over coming weeks, the Drua can’t wait to get back to Fiji for the round 11 clash against the Highlanders in Suva on April 30. Tickets can be purchased in Fiji at Fiji Post branches or Fiji Sports Council. For those based overseas wanting tickets, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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