The Fijian Drua play the Otago Highlanders in a widely anticipated match at the National Stadium in Suva this weekend. Coach Mick Byrne talks about the team’s preparation and future plans.
“One of the key factors and questions I get asked a lot is the fitness level of the team, so from November to December there were some tough times for the team,” Byrne told media in Suva yesterday.
“It happens when you bring more than 40 members together, mix talents, and the players do their best,” he said.
The 43-member Fiji Drua squad, includes players from various backgrounds, from experienced international players like Teti Tela (fly-half, inside center), to Coca Cola gold medalist athelete Tevita Ikanavere (hooker) and ex-Marist student and Naitisiri player, Chris Minimbi, who has PNG/Fijian heritage.
According to Byrne, the team understands the expectations placed upon them. “I don’t want the fans to lower their expectation of us winning; we have the same expectation for ourselves,” he says.
The Drua training camp was a rigorous programme, and not just physically.
“One important thing to note is changing the mindset from a traditional culture to a more performance culture,” Byrne said.
“We need to help our people understand that we are all equal on the field. A young man can be able to tell someone who has a title of ‘Ratu’a “No” or that you need to push up.”
As Pacific Islanders, we are known to have a love for food, and this is an area of constant discussion in camp. Byrne said, “In my experience, every meal that you eat is a part of your work, so it was tough for the boys. It’s not a matter of choosing the wrong thing but rather understanding that it’s not good food for professional athletes.
“The players would say, ‘but it tastes so good’ or ‘I’m training so hard it will burn off’, but the aim is to make them feel better than the day before, so it’s work in progress.”
This season, the Drua have had one win and eight losses, but this does not dampen the spirit in camp as they continue to strive to do better each week.
Mick Byrne said, “We review our games every Monday. This is where we see the learning opportunities and good examples, as well as try to learn from it.
“We are happy because our learning opportunities are dropping and the good examples have increased.”
The good news for future young players interested in Super Rugby is that the coach is not only thinking about today, but also the Fiji Drua’s development.
“What we did was try to find local players and get them exposed to Super Rugby. It’s part of our commitment to bringing young players not to expose them before they are ready, but it was about trying to find body shape and maturity,” Bryne said.
“There are good young players in the system, but it’s a matter now of us trying to get more direction on how we can help in that area and starting to create programmes for players already in the system. We hope to help all the young players get there physically and mentally by the age of 16 to 20 for when Drua comes knocking, so there will be a lot more scouting around the country in the future,” he said.
As the Fiji Drua team gears up for the match against the Highlanders this Saturday at 4pm, the coach is not giving too much away. “Ask me again this Saturday. You will have to come watch the game to see the changes in the game plan,” Byrne says.