Suva crowd delivers despite uneven Drua results

Atelaite Buna – Player of the Match in the semifinal against the Western Force.

The atmosphere was electric as the Fijian Drua teams showcased their talent in front of a sell out crowd at the HFC Stadium in Suva yesterday.

As soon as the gates opened at 3pm, crowds flocked to the ground in numbers.

By 4:30pm there were reports that the stadium was sold out in anticipation of the Fijian Drua double-header in the home teams’ first games in Suva this season.

Fijiana Drua vs Western Force

It was a slow start in the first half of the women’s curtain raiser. Tighthead prop Ana Korovata was sent to the bin just 10 minutes into the game for a high tackle and the Western Force capitalised by slotting in a penalty to take a 3-0 lead.

The Drua kept the pressure on and were relentless in attack, led by outside center Vani Arei.

Finally, at the 19th minute mark, blindside winger Adita Milinia broke through the Western Force defence from half way. She was stopped right in front of the posts, but the team quickly spread the ball to the right, where full back Atelaite Buna sliced between two Western Force defenders to dive in for the try.

Hoping for a grand final berth, the Western Force women replied with a successful penalty kick from half back Samantha Wood.

Just minutes later, Wood made a penalty clearance kick but it landed short of the touchlines. The quick-thinking blindside winger,  (Tongan) Siutiti Ma’ake chased down the kick which the Fijian Drua could not regather properly. Ma’ake picked the ball and jogged over for an easy try.

Ana Korovata made amends when she powered over from a ‘pick n go’ to score Drua’s second try just before halftime. The forward pack had to really muscle up to build for that one.

With missed conversions from the Drua, the Force still led 11 – 10 at the break.

Back on the ground, the Western Force managed to slot another penalty to extend their lead to 14 – 10.

The second half saw the inclusion of Bitila Tawake into the game. The former Fijian Drua captain returns after playing a season with the Waikato Chiefs Manawa in the Super Rugby Aupiki in New Zealand.

As always Tawake made her presence felt and the momentum lifted as she carried the ball strongly, and was passionate in defence.

Drua lock forward Jade Coates was superb in the tackle areas as well, and brilliant in the aerial battles during the lineouts.

Atelaite Buna scored her second try from a ridiculous offload by halfback Setaita Railumu, who also put in a dazzling performance in the number 9 jersey.

Buna’s third and final try was perhaps the highlight of the night. The Drua gambled for a set play off a scrum from deep within their own 22 metre zone. The forward pack won the feed from the scrum before the backline worked their magic to give Buna space to run. That final play was so well synchronised that it just might be the best try of the season, and it prompted the Suva crowd to erupt!

As Player of the Match, Buna said: “I just want to thank the Lord for the victory today. I also thank my team for working together and getting the job done. We could not have done it without everybody putting in the work. To all the fans and supporters thank you and please keep supporting our team”.

The Drua only managed to make one penalty kick and one conversion last night, so there is room for improvement there before the final at Ballymore next weekend.

“We’ll still need to work on our ball carries and minimise the knock-ons. We need to work more on our defense structures and make our tackles count heading into the final next week. Our new players have also stepped up this season. They have done good and added so much value to the team’s mission”, Fijian Drua captain Karalaini Naisewa said after the match.

Final score: Fijiana Drua 25 – Western Force 14

Fijian Drua vs Wellington Hurrricanes

It was a different story for the men’s game.

At the start it looked as if it might be a ‘tit for tat’ encounter, with both teams scoring a converted try in the first 10 mins of the game.

Hurricanes Flankers Du’Plessis Kirifi and Brad Shields were tremendous in the tackles, creating havoc and winning turnovers in nearly all the breakdowns they were involved in.

Drua no.8 Elia Canakaivata ran hard but the Hurricanes defense line looked impenetrable all night.

However the Wellington Hurricanes are unbeaten this year and ultimately they took control, winning by 23 points.

Fijian Drua coach Mick Byrne was unimpressed, saying:  “I think the key step for us is turnovers. We turned the ball over 23 times. We are playing an undefeated team and we just can’t do that. Some of it was just simple errors and we are better than that. It is disappointing to have turned the ball over that many times.”

He noted: “They are the top team and they defended well. We hung on to the ball, going in the corners and doing our work. We were threatening all the time but we just didn’t finish as well as we would like.”

The Fijian Drua play the Moana Pasifika in Lautoka next week.

“We know the top eight is achievable, you gotta win 6 or more games. We’ve got three and we need to win another three. But that’s not what we are about. We planned on winning all our home games and winning four on the road and we have not been able to do that. It was really disappointing tonight. A full house but we just made too many errors”, added Byrne.

Captain Tevita Ikanivere was also disappointed. “I think we let ourselves down. We turned the ball over too many times. We had good defence and we just didn’t finish off what we started. They went down to 13 men, we had 15 but we still did not score. So we will go back to the drawing board and see what needs to be fixed. Come next week we have to win, so we can achieve what we set out to do as a team”.

Final score: Fijian Drua 15– Wellington Hurricanes 38