12 Mar 2023

A landmark win over Crusaders for the new boys

9:12 am on 12 March 2023
Scott Barrett of the Crusaders is tackled by Joseva Tamani of Fijian Drua during the Super Rugby Pacific match, Crusaders Vs Fijian Drua, at Orangetheory Stadium, Christchurch, New Zealand, 20th May 2022. Copyright photo: John Davidson / www.photosport.nz

The Crusaders play the Fijian Drua in Christchurch on 20 May 2022. This time round the Drua made the most of being on home turf, Jamie Wall writes. Photo: Photosport Ltd 2022 www.photosport.nz

It had been predicted that as soon as the Fijian Drua got a proper home schedule, they'd be a much more difficult side to beat.

The Crusaders found that out the hard way on an absolute sweaty armpit of a day in Lautoka during this weekend's round of Super Rugby Pacific, losing on the last kick of a game they really had no right to win anyway.

This weekend has seen some very good rugby, but it belongs to the Drua. They've delivered on their promise to play an up-tempo style throughout their time in Super Rugby so far and nearly pulled off a couple of upsets last season.

But this win was built on a strong set piece, the skills that only Fijians seem to possess and a fervent crowd that roared them home.

Oh, and overcoming the fact that they forgot to start anyone who could kick goals.

Teti Tela had the sort of day with the boot that made you wonder if he'd been at the pub all morning, and it looked like his missed conversions would cost the Drua a famous win as Fergus Burke nailed one from the sideline to put the Crusaders in front with two minutes to play.

Then came one of the most nerve-racking debuts of all time as the Drua brought on Kemu Valetini (brother of Wallaby number eight Rob) to make his first contribution in Super Rugby: a shot at goal to win the game after the Crusaders infringed immediately off the kickoff.

OK, it was about the easiest kick you could get, but that's still some pressure entrance into the big time.

It would have been an injustice if the Crusaders had won off the back of three boring lineout drive tries and only a hint of the endeavour that they're capable of. They were stitched up a bit due to having to rest some of their All Blacks but that's not much of an excuse given the talent they possess to fill the gaps.

But the reason why this is such a special win isn't just because the Drua beat the team that no one likes, it's because this is what happens when you give Pacific Island rugby a proper opportunity to compete. Long may it continue.

Fiji Drua’s Kaliopasi Uluilakepa against the Crusaders, 2022 Super Rugby Pacific match in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Fiji Drua's Samuela Tawake during last year's fixture. Photo: Photosport Ltd 2022 www.photosport.nz

Other observations from the weekend

It would have been an injustice if the Hurricanes won, too. Josh Moorby's try in the second half was incredibly dodgy, given it looked very much as though he'd knocked it on and grounded the ball short of the line anyway.

For the sake of consistency, Canes fans should probably hold it in the same regard as Elliott Dixon's 'try' in the 2015 Super Rugby final, coincidentally scored in almost the exact same spot.

Blues forward Hoskins Sotutu.

Hoskins Sotutu was among the standouts for the Blues, Jamie Wall writes. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

The Blues loose forwards went to war. The game in Wellington was played with a test match-like level of intensity, as both packs went all out to destroy one another at the breakdown.

Hoskins Sotutu was immense, as was Dalton Papalii. Those two men have different sorts of cases to present to the All Black selectors, but both did so in brutal fashion.

The Chiefs have made the perfect start. The only unbeaten NZ side has also got there by churning through one of the toughest parts of their schedule, with all three wins coming against local sides too. They've got two winnable games against the Rebels and Tahs coming up, before a big showdown with the Blues in Hamilton.

The Blues women learned their lesson. Coming off a heartbreaking loss last weekend, the Blues were determined not to let history repeat itself against the Hurricanes Poua. They went to work in the last 10 minutes, grabbing the lead and tacking on another try for good measure to win 32-21 and take some good momentum into next weekend's semi-finals.

Aupiki feels like the Chiefs Manawa's to lose, though. It was a very weird game in which Matatu shot out to a big lead early, Manawa then rolling them back before a late comeback in vain by the visitors saw the score finish 46-38.

Despite that, Manawa have consistently shown they have one thing the other sides don't: a scarily efficient set piece that scores at will. Unless the other sides can figure out a way of not letting them into their 22, the defending champs will simply rumble their way to victory over the next two weekends.

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