Crusaders condemned to worst Super Rugby start in years after Fijian Drua win

Fijian Drua vs Crusaders (PHOTO: Crusaders Rugby)

The Fijian Drua have condemned the reigning champion Canterbury Crusaders to their worst start since the first season of Super Rugby in 1996 with a 20-10 victory in front of a passionate home crowd in Lautoka. 

The error-prone Crusaders struggled to deal with the steamy conditions as well as the power and pace of the Drua and slumped to three defeats in three matches in the new Super Rugby Pacific season under new coach Rob Penney. 

The Drua defended defiantly and thoroughly deserved their second straight win over the 13-times Super Rugby champions after their last season’s victory at the same Churchill Park stadium. 

“This win is not for us, it’s for the fans who always back us up,” said Drua captain Meli Derenalagi on Saturday. 

“The last two games we were frustrated and disappointed with two losses. Today the boys were on fire as we defended our turf.” 

The Crusaders, in a period of transition after the loss of longtime coach Scott Robertson to the All Blacks and flyhalf Richie Mo’unga to Japan, took a 10-0 lead in the 19th minute when Fiji-born winger Sevu Reece crossed for a converted try. 

The Drua hit back with a penalty from flyhalf Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula before winger Selestino Ravutaumada finished a typically flamboyant move to send the teams into the break all square at 10-10. 

Fiji scrumhalf Frank Lomani, who was outstanding leading the Drua around the park, scored the home side’s second try five minutes into the second half and another penalty from Armstrong-Ravula in the 72nd minute made the points safe. 

“We didn’t execute, we just weren’t sharp and clinical as we’d like,” said Crusaders captain and All Blacks lock Scott Barrett. 

“You give the Fijian Drua a sniff and they’ll punish you.” 

Meanwhile, Fijian Drua Coach Mick Bryne praised his team’s defensive effort in their 20-10 morale boosting victory over the Crusaders saying strategy and discipline was key. 

“We talked about it all week, being in form and playing our game. I think we did pretty well, especially in the second half where we really went after the game,” said Bryne 

Bryne was particularly impressed with how the team managed to contain threats like Crusader’s star attack Sevu Reece. 

“We made most of our tackles, which was crucial. Sevu Reece is known for breaking defenses, but we managed to shut him down.” 

The coach also lauded the younger players for their significant contributions and growth within the team. 

“The younger players have done well in team, they have contributed pretty well in the team, I’m proud of the way they are growing,” 

Looking forward, Bryne remains focused on upcoming challenges, especially the match against the Chiefs. 

“Against the Chiefs, we’ll just play our game, there are some tactical changes that we will need to look into, we’ll just need to look after ball and carry it well,” he concluded.

Savea breaks record as Melbourne Rebels dig deep to defeat Moana Pasifika

Meanwhile, Melbourne have made it back-to-back Super Rugby Pacific wins, holding on to beat Moana Pasifika 29-23 in Hamilton. 

The game will go down in history as Julian Savea broke the record for most tries in Super Rugby Pacific with his 61st try in his career, helping Moana Pasifika to a second half lead. 

Behind a bruising display from their forward pack, the Rebels overcame the second-half fightback from Pasifika to grab a 24-20 lead on 67 minutes through a Lachie Anderson try. 

Andrew Kellaway, who played superbly after shifting from fullback to wing, iced the contest by putting Glen Vaihu through to score two minutes from time. 

Skipper Rob Leota, who left the field early with a leg injury, acknowledged the win as a step forward for a side winning consecutive games for the first time since April 2022. 

“For us this week (our goal) was winning on the road and winning back-to-back. We haven’t been very fond of doing that for a while,” he said. 

“On the road against a great team like Moana, we’re happy to come out with the win. 

“It was big for us just sticking in, we know how physical Moana can be and we knew we had to be up for the challenge. 

“It’s a big forward pack, so I’m just proud the boys stuck in there, just trusted the process.”

After last weekend’s 48-34 win against the Western Force, any memories of the Rebels’ uncompetitive first-up display against the ACT are a thing of the past as they soar up the table in the early rounds. 

Riding high from their second-half surge against the Force, Melbourne looked on track for a comfortable win when they raced to an early 19-3 lead. 

Kellaway only needed five minutes to get on the scoresheet, with his forwards helping produce tries for Ryan Louwrens and Vaiolini Ekuasi. 

But the longer the game went, the more the Pasifika outfit found their feet, with legendary All Black Julian Savea instrumental in all that went right for them. 

He powered his way close to the line for lock Allan Craig to score Moana’s first try, before crossing himself to claim the record for most tries in Super Rugby Pacific history. 

Savea, who’s scored 61 career tries, was an off-season addition for Moana after being released by the Hurricanes. 

Moana played the last 15 minutes a player down, with Craig and then Jacob Norris spending time in the sin bin. 

But Savea lamented their shocking start as the reason his side lost. 

“We didn’t turn up and it took a while, and against a good team like the Rebels, you can’t start like that,” he said. 

“Physically, they beat us up early on, we just showed our talent too late.” 

With Melbourne 2-1 for the season, Leota insisted there was plenty of improvement left. 

“We still feel like we’ve got so much growth in our squad and we realise the depth we’ve got,” he said. 

“We’re mixing those combinations, but coming into the season, getting more games together, I think we’re going to be a lot better as the season goes on.” 

PASIFIKA (1-15): Abraham Pole, Sama Malolo, Sione Mafileo, Tom Savage, Allan Craig, Jacob Norris, Sione Havili Talitui (c), Lotu Inisi, Ereatara Enari, William Havili, Anzelo Tuitavuki, Julian Savea, Henry Taefu, Pepesana Patafilo, Danny Toala 

RESERVES: Tomasi Maki, Sateki Latu, Sekope Kepu, Ola Tauelangi, Irie Papuni, Melani Matavao, Christian Lealiifano, Kyren Taumoefolau 

REBELS (1-15): Matt Gibbon, Jordan Uelese, Sam Talakai, Josh Canham, Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, Josh Kemeny, Vaiolini Ekuasi, Rob Leota (c), Ryan Louwrens, Carter Gordon, Andrew Kellaway, David Feliuai, Filipo Daugunu, Lachie Anderson, Jake Strachan 

RESERVES: Ethan Dobbins, Isaac Kailea, Taniela Tupou, Tuaina Taii Tualima, Daniel Maiava, James Tuttle, Glen Vaihu, Lukas Ripley.