Fijian Drua faces daunting task in Christchurch

Members of the Fijian Drua team before their match against the Moana Pacifika. Picture: JAIME CASTANEDA

It’s the penultimate week of the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific regular season and fans have a pretty good idea of the finals picture as it stands.

Avoiding defeat against the second placed Brumbies on Saturday evening would lock up the minor premiership for the Blues with the Brumbies in a battle for second spot with the Crusaders, who are near unbackable favourites over the Fijian Drua.

At the bottom end of the eight, a win for the suddenly hot Highlanders would make them the last team to confirm their playoff participation.

The win in Canberra against the Brumbies shows how deadly the traditional giants of Super Rugby are, and while there are still a couple of lingering questions about the make-up of Scott Robertson’s team, they are rounding into something resembling top form and pundits have predicted them to easily handle the Fijian Drua side even though they won last week against their fellow Pacific Island rivals Moana Pasifika.

The Drua’s lone trip to the ‘Windy City’ resulted in the 67-5 hammering at the hands of the Hurricanes and the Drua could be facing a similar outcome here, but it will come down to how ruthless the Crusaders would be.

Fijian Drua head coach Mick Byrne announced his line-up for big clash against the Crusaders.

Missing from the line-up are Meli Derenalagi, Meli Tuni and Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta.

Kaliopasi Uluilakepa, Samuela Tawake and Zuriel Togiatama will battle the front-row, while Isoa Nasilasila and Ratu Rotuisolia make up the second-row, and Joseva Tamani, Mesulame Dolokoto and Nemani Nagusa complete the forward pack.

The back-line consists of Peni Matawalu, Caleb Muntz, Teti Tela, Kalaveti Ravouvou, Vinaya Habosi, Selestino Ravutaumada and Kitione Taliga. Providing impact off the bench are Tevita Ikanivere, Haereiti Hetet, Manasa Saulo, Chris Minimbi, Raikabula Momoedonu, Leone Nawai, Ilaisa Droasese and Tuidraki Samusamuvodre.

In his pre-match interview Byrne stated, “It’s really exciting to face the Crusaders in Christchurch.”

Another great challenge for the players in their first season; challenges don’t come much bigger than this and it’s going to be a great experience for us all!”

On the other hand, Crusaders coach Scott Robertson made a swathe of changes to his side.

The seven big omissions from the line-up are George Bower, Codie Taylor, Pablo Matera, Cullen Grace, Richie Mo’unga, David Havili and Will Jordan.

All seven internationals have been major contributors for the Crusaders this season, with Taylor and Mo’unga making nine appearances to date and the remaining contingent hitting double figures.

There are two intriguing positional changes to the team with Scott Barrett moving from the second row to blindside flanker and Jack Goodhue moving from outside centre to second five.

In the front row, Finlay Brewis and Ricky Jackson, who will take over from Bower and the injured Taylor, will partner with Fletcher Newell.

Zach Gallagher and Sam Whitelock will combine in the second row while Barrett joins Tom Christie and Ethan Blackadder in the loose forwards.

With Mo’unga out of the team, Fergus Burke earns a fourth start and will link up with Bryn Hall.

Goodhue’s shift means he reunites his partnership with Braydon Ennor. In the outside backs, Leicester Fainga’anuku will earn his 10th start of the season while right wing Sevu Reece will get the chance to play against his fellow Fijians. Jordan’s absence hands Chay Fihaki his sixth Super Rugby cap. On the bench, Shilo Klein makes a first appearance since his red card incurred against the Highlanders at the start of April and will be joined by Tamaiti Williams, Oli Jager, Dominic Gardiner and Corey Kellow.

Experienced backs Mitchell Drummond, Simon Hickey and George Bridge complete the 23-member squad.

The Crusaders will be gunning for a bonus-point win to overtake the second-placed Brumbies so fans can expect the hosts to be ruthless.

The Crusaders have lost three matches, ironically two at home to the Chiefs (24- 21) and the Blues (27-23), one away from home to the Waratahs (24-21), while the Drua has managed two wins.

The Crusaders sit on third position with 42 points, while the Drua is ranked 11th with 11 points.

The Drua will face a mammoth task although the giants will play without big names.

The Drua must make a statement before they face the Chiefs in their last match.

Both my teams are playing so I’ll quietly cheer for both.

  • RAJNESH LINGAM is a contributor to this newspaper. The views expressed are his and not necessarily of this newspaper or his employer

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