Fijian Drua outdone by Crusaders, but fans can’t for 2024 season

Photo: Fijian Drua

The Fijian Drua had to sail through rough seas in Christchurch as they were outdone 49-8 by the Crusaders in the Super Rugby Pacific quarterfinals on Saturday night.

The visitors took the field under less than desired weather – a nippy 8 degrees – to front up to the Super Rugby serial winners at Orange Theory Stadium, failing to replicate their performance in the regular season when they upset the Crusaders 25-24 in Lautoka.

While the 8 degree temperature was beautiful for the champion side, it was no doubt arctic for the Drua who are used to something closer to the 25 degree mark at home.

Right from the first whistle, things started badly for the visitors when their kick-off failed to make it to the 10-meters.

About a minute later, the first try of the match was scored by Crusaders tighthead prop Oliver Jager, followed by a successful conversion by Richie Mo’unga.

The points continued to flow. Two tries by Codie Taylor and another two successful conversions brought the score to 21-0 in under 15 minutes.

The Crusaders rampage slowed – by a touch – thanks in part to a knock on that meant no try for Leicester Faingaa’nuku who got the ball over the line.

The Drua’s first points came from a penalty kick from Frank Lomani at the 25-minute mark, which was answered back by another try from Crusaders number six Sione Havili-Talitui.

The Drua’s only try of the match followed from Selestino Ravutaumada, who intercepted a pass from Will Jordan, resulting in a deafening cheer from the Fijian fans, bringing the halftime score to 28-8.

But the Crusaders domination continued in the second half with a quick try by Scott Barret as the match resumed.

The Drua avoided another when Will Jordan was found offside keeping the score to 35-8.

Jordan, however, still managed to get on the scoresheet not soon after, this time when the Crusaders only had 14 players on the pitch due to injuries.

It was followed by Willi Heinz securing the final one at the 76-minute mark, this time with only 13 players.

Leicester Faingaanuku in action for the Crusaders.

Although, Canterbury is a far cry from Fiji, it certainly felt like it based solely of fans.

Drua supporters were naturally outnumbered, but one Drua fan’s cheering seemed to account for three of the Crusaders.

Fiji supporter, Veronika Naiwaqa, who flew from Fiji to watch the game said she loved it despite the result.

“We’re behind the boys whether they win or lose. We’re behind them,” Naiwaqa said.

“The spirit, the vibes are just so exhilarating and the support for the boys is beautiful.

“I’m sure the support back home is much, much more.”

The sentiment was shared by Keli Navunilagi who drove five hours from Nelson to watch.

“It’s a first quarterfinal for the Drua so hats off to them,” he said.

“We can’t wait for next year’s competition.”

Prior to Saturday’s game, Drua coach Mick Byrne was under no illusion on an uphill task.

“We know they are eleven times champions, they’re playing at home, and will be looking to come back at us after we beat them, so our expectation is that we’re going to get a pretty good Crusaders side,” Byrne said.

The Crusaders have won every visiting team playoff since 1996.

A record well acknowledged by Drua fans, who were equal parts optimistic and realistic about the challenge.

Jope Tudreu was one of them and drove up from Dunedin with his family to support his team.

He said the distance that everyone had travelled showed how special the game was.

“I remember back when we were quite young [in Fiji] we used to go to the closest house that had Super Rugby.

“For us to be able to see one of our own playing it’s unbelievable.

“You can’t imagine that because you’ve been seeing New Zealand, Australia and South Africa play. But Fiji? Who would have believed that would have happened?”

Wolseley Salele has been living in Christchurch for nearly 20 years but is from Fiji and switched his alliances before the game.

“I’ve always been a staunch supporter of the Crusaders ever since I’ve come to live in Christchurch,” he said.

“I love Christchurch and everything, but today I’ve switched sides, just for this game,” he said just before the game had started. The Crusaders will now take on the Blues in a semi-final home game match up on Friday.

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