By Sri Krishnamurthi
Fiji Drua beat Moana Pasifika in both teams’ first match of Super Rugby Pacific 2023 in a pulsating game that went to the wire before Fiji Drua triumphed 36-34 at Mt Smart stadium.
There were 11 tries in a fast-paced encounter on Saturday, with the Drua’s sixth score, in the 77th minute to substitute wing Taniela Rakuro, who was elevated from the development squad on Thursday.
The contest could have gone either way, and while it wasn’t a game for the purists given the high rate of errors, it was an engrossing game.
Moana Pasifika attempted to dominate up front and were rewarded early on with tries to Abraham Pole and Chris Apoua.
However, the Drua always looked threatening with hooker and captain Tevita Ikanavere, who was in standout form making barging runs. He was rewarded with two tries.
Other notable performances were from loose forwards Joseva Tamani and Kitione Salawa and backline star Iosefo Masi.
Moana Pasifika’s 12-0 early lead was extended to 26-19 at half-time.
It remained an even contest before Masi completed his brace to level the scores at 31-31.
Skipper Christian Leali’ifano put Moana Pasifika back in front with the only penalty shot of the match before the Drua produced a mesmerising try to snatch the lead and victory, with Rakuro going over.
Impressive second half
Fiji Drua coach Mick Byrne was delighted by the effort.
“We started slowly but the boys got into it after we had a chat at half-time, and they played with the freedom that I allowed them,” he said.
“Put it this way, we were looking forward to playing our games in front of our fans and do they deserve it?”
Aaron Mauger was disappointed for his Pasifika team.
“I am proud of the guys for putting in the effort against a team that came at them.
“They started really well we gave them a couple of opportunities to get back into the game and I think our game management was poor.
“We gave them opportunities and they were good enough to take them.”
At Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland: Fijian Drua 36 (Tevita Ikanivere 2 tries 20min, 45min, Joseva Tamani try 28min, Iosefo Masi 2 tries 36min, 58min, Taniela Rakuro try 77min; Teti Tela 2 con; Caleb Muntz con), Moana Pasifika 34 (Abraham Pole 2 tries 2min, 50min, Chris Apoua try 8min, Mike Curry try 24min, Danny Toala try 39min; Christian Lealiifano pen, 3 con). Ht: 19-26.
Yellow card: Sam Slade (Moana) 26min.