18 Apr 2024

Preview: Unbeaten Hurricanes face partisan Drua crowd

12:34 pm on 18 April 2024
Fijian Drua beat the Crusaders

Fijian Drua beat the Crusaders Photo: Getty

Explosive Friday clashes tipped for Suva

Fijian rugby fans are set for a feast of explosive rugby in Suva on Friday.

First up will be the Super W semi-final between the defending champions, the Fijian Drua women, against the Western Force.

While the Drua will be trying earn a third consecutive final, the Force are playing in their first-ever semi.

After that clash is the Super Rugby Pacific ninth-round game between the Hurricanes and the Fijian Drua.

Hurricanes expect vocal crowd

Hurricanes coach Clark Laidlaw has named a side with several changes to the team that took on the Chiefs last weekend.

While the Hurricanes have not lost any game so far, the Drua have won their three home games against the Crusaders, Waratahs and the Force.

Drua beat the Hurricanes at the same ground in 2023.

For the Hurricanes, Laidlaw said they expect a vocal home crowd that will be backing the Drua - but that is nothing new.

"We're looking forward to heading over to Suva and getting into our work," he said.

"Last week was great for us to be able to get out in front of our home fans; and this week is an exciting challenge to head over to and take on the Drua.

"We know the challenge that awaits us and how strong they are at home in front of a passionate crowd."

He said it's pleasing to see another couple of their squad set to make their debuts, with Ben Grant and Siale Lauaki coming into the side.

"Siale is a product of our Hurricanes development pathway and has a big future with our club after an outstanding Under-20 World Cup in 2023."

Players with Fijian heritage in the starting side are Isaia Walker-Leawere, Salesi Rayasi and Kini Naholo.

Loosie Peter Lakai is expected to come off the bench.

Nasilasila returns in changed Drua side

Fijian Drua coach Mick Byrne has named Isoa Nasilasila in the run-on team, following the lock-forward's recovery from an injury that has kept him out of action since round two.

He has retained Haereiti Hetet, Tevita Ikanivere and Mesake Doge upfront.

Ikanivere takes over the captaincy from Ratu Meli Derenalagi, who will start off the bench.

Flyhalf Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula will misses the match, taking time off to attend a funeral in New Zealand.

The six-match suspension handed to veteran halfback Frank Lomani means a re-shuffle in the backline, with Simione Kuruvoli starting at number nine and young Isikeli Rabitu slotting in at flyhalf.

Sharpshooter Kemu Valetini, who kicked the winning points against the Hurricanes last year, starts at inside centre.

Byrne told the media in Nadi this week the team will need to focus on their own game and do the basics right, with an emphasis on retaining the ball for longer periods.

He said the home advantage will be of no use if the team cannot use their opportunities.

"We have to start well against the Hurricanes. And stick in the game and not allow them to get away from us," Byrne said.

"I think you just deal with what you've got - the easiest way to deal with situations is to make sure you hang on to the ball.

"If we're going to ask the Hurricanes to make lots of tackles then we have to hang on to the ball; we have to get out our stuff right."

He said if they get their game right, their home advantage is a benefit.

"But if we don't play our game, then the home advantage is no longer an advantage. So we really focused on that."

The Drua - Hurricanes match will kick off at 7.05pm (Fiji time) on Friday, at the HFC Bank Stadium in Suva.

Fijian Drua match-day 23: 1. Haereiti Hetet, 2. Tevita Ikanivere (c), 3. Mesake Doge, 4. Isoa Nasilasila, 5. Leone Rotuisolia, 6. Vilive Miramira, 7. Kitione Salawa, 8.Elia Canakaivata, 9. Simi Kuruvoli, 10. Isikeli Rabitu, 11.Epeli Momo, 12.Kemu Valetini, 13. Iosefo Masi, 14. Selestino Ravutaumada, 15. Ilaisa Droasese; Reserves - 16. Zuriel Togiatama, 17. Livai Natave, 18. Samu Tawake, 19. Mesake Vocevoce, 20. Meli Derenalagi, 21. Peni Matawalu, 22. Michael Naitokani, 23. Junior Ratuva.

Hurricanes match-day 23: 1.Tevita Mafileo, 2. James O'Reilly, 3. Pasilio Tosi, 4. Ben Grant, 5. Isaia Walker-Leawere, 6. Brad Shields (Captain), 7. Du'Plessis Kirifi, 8.Devan Flanders, 9.TJ Perenara, 10. Aidan Morgan, 11. Salesi Rayasi, 12. Jordie Barrett, 13. Billy Proctor, 14. Kini Naholo, 15.Josh Moorby; Reserves - 16. Asafo Aumua, 17. Xavier Numia, 18. Siale Lauaki, 19. Caleb Delany, 20.Peter Lakai, 21. Richard Judd, 22. Ruben Love, 23. Bailyn Sullivan.

Fijian women set for home semi-final

Meanwhile, Fijian Drua Women head coach Mosese Rauluni says the team has a chance to re-write history on Friday afternoon.

The team battles the Western Force in a semi-final of the Super W competition.

The Drua women are the defending champions after having won the title in 2022 and 2023.

Rauluni said the key for the home team will be keeping the ball and tightening their defense.

He believes the players are mentally psyched for the game.

"Defense and our tactical kicking and play in the right parts of the field," Rauluni said when asked about what he sees that needs to be done.

"We have to make one-on-one tackles. That's a big part of defensive, you know, the best defense in the world. But if you're not putting the heat on, then it falls apart.

"We'll be looking forward to working a lot with with our defense and our kicking has to be spot on."

Rauluni has included 2022 and 2023 captain Bitila Tawake, who played for the Chiefs in the New Zealand competition this season, on the bench.

The Drua women had defeated the Force in Lautoka three weekends ago.

But Rauluni said they expect their opponents to be better this time around, especially if the weather holds.

The Western Force have received a major boost with the return of inspirational skipper Trilleen Pomare.

Pomare missed the Force's thrilling 38-36 win over the ACT Brumbies with a minor knock, but is named to start in the side's first-ever semi-finals appearance.

Japan international front-rower Misaki Suzuki comes into the team as a reserve to replace hooker Sara Cline, who has departed for international duty with Canada for the upcoming Pacific Four Series.

The pair are the only two changes from the side that beat the Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday to clinch third spot.

The match kicks off at 4:35pm on Friday (Fiji time) at the HFC Bank Stadium.

Fijiana Drua match-day 23: 1. Salanieta Nabuli, 2. Keleni Marawa, 3. Anasimeci Korovata, 4. Jade Coates, 5. Asinate Serevi, 6. Nunia Daunimoala, 7. Sulita Waisega, 8. Karalaini Naisewa (c), 9. Setaita Railumu, 10. Jenifer Ravutia, 11. Adita Milinia, 12. Merewalesi Rokouno, 13. Vani Arei (vc), 14. Merewairita Neivosa, 15. Atelaite Buna; Reserves - 16. Litia Marama, 17. Bitila Tawake,18. Vika Matarugu, 19. Mereoni Nakesa, 20. Fulori Rotagavira, 21. Evivi Senikarivi, 22. Salanieta Kinita, 23. Repeka Tove.

Western Force women match-day 23: 1.Alapeta Ngauamo, 2. Hera-Barb Malcolm Heke, 3. Natsuki Kashiwagi, 4. Michaela Leonard, 5. Rosie Ebbage, 6. Lucy Dinnen, 7. Anneka Stephens, 8. Tamika Jones, 9. Samantha Wood, 10. Nicole Ledington, 11. Siutiti Ma'ake, 12. Trilleen Pomare (c), 13. Sheree Hume, 14. Brooklyn Teki-Joyce, 15. Renae Nona; Reserves - Reserves: 16. Misaki Suzuki, 17. Hannah Palelei, 18. Harono Te Iringa, 19. Libya Teepa, 20. Keira MacAskill, 21. Dallys Tini, 22. Haylee Hifo, 23. Georgia Cormick

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