In a moment that will be etched in Pacific history books, the Fijian Drua claimed a remarkable 47-46 win over Moana Pasifika. A DHL Super Rugby Pacific rivalry like no other, the Fijian sun put on a blazing afternoon of rugby where the local crowd came out in the thousands to support.
Heading into the game, the marquee matchup was found in the midfield between the two attacking weapons, Levi Aumua and Iosefo Masi. With both 13’s leading their team in defenders beaten and featuring among the top two in their sides for tries, carries, and offloads, the rampaging midfielders going head-to-head was sure to produce fireworks.
The Battle of the Pacific opened with a bang and gave fans around the world a glimpse of what they could expect for the entire contest.
In the opening five minutes it was all Moana Pasifika as they strung together phase after phase deep in the Drua half. Playing with great confidence, Moana Pasifika’s offensive structure looked like a well-oiled machine as they threatened the home side early.
Down the right flank, winger Tima Fainga’anuku set William Havili free through a broken Drua defence where the fullback was able to sprint down the side-line, and score a mesmerising aerial try to open the Pacific affair.
The home side replied almost immediately as they got their own opportunity with ball in hand in the Moana Pasifika half. Drua blindside Joseva Tamani broke free down the right edge to get his team up to the opposition line. Moana Pasifika’s great desperation defence saw them secure a turnover, but despite a feed to their own five metre scrum, the Drua forward pack showed their muscle to secure a scrum penalty. Their opportunistic captain Meli Derenalagi took the quick tap and dove over to even the score.
The Drua proved early that they were willing to attack from anywhere on the field, electing to spread the ball wide multiple times from deep inside their own half. This tactic would eventually prove successful as outside centre Iosefo Masi broke free in one of those instances. With multiple defenders in his way, the dynamic number 13 showed his footwork to score one of the best individual tries of the season.
A Drua feed to their scrum on their ten-metre line saw halfback Frank Lomani run down the blindside where Masi and winger Selestino Ravutaumada streaked away 30 meters downfield. Shifting to the left, the ball found itself in the hands of fullback Ilaisa Droasese who was given too much space to attack the line and grounded the ball for his team’s third 5-pointer.
A much-needed water break at the 20-minute mark put a halt to the electrifying opening stanza that saw four tries scored. The Fijian atmosphere was providing a motivational backdrop for both teams who were feeling the effects of a fast-paced opening quarter in the draining sun.
A picture-perfect lineout drive for Moana Pasifika saw them score next through prop Ezekiel Lindenmuth to secure his team’s second try.
Marching down field through the left boot of Havili, Moana Pasifika went to their lineout maul once again. Taken off the back by the mobile hooker Luteru Tolai, they shifted wide where the standout Havili straightened off his left foot and pierced the Drua line to score a first half double and cut the lead to two points.
With the Drua back on attack, blindside flanker Tomani performed a majestic Fijian offload unleashed Droasese down the middle of the field. As two Moana Pasifika players clashed and were down in a heap, the Drua capitalised on a staggered defence and shifted the ball wide for left winger Eroni Sau to dive over in the corner.
In what was proving to be a back-and-forth match, it was Moana Pasifika’s turn to respond. A calculated overthrow by Tolai at a line-out on halfway was caught by Henry Taefu who released the ball out the back to his halfback. Game drivers Taumateine and Lealiifano swiftly spread it wide for the dangerous right winger Tima Fainga’anuku to go one on one with his opposite. An emphatic bump off gave the winger space down the right flank to pass to the supporting Taumateine who found Levi Aumua with 10 metres to go and only one defender in his sights. The centre from Tailevu registered his name on the scoresheet to close the gap to 26-24 to the Drua heading into halftime.
The second forty opened with Lealiifano securing a turnover in the Drua half and slotting the penalty to take his team in front for the first time since the five-minute mark.
Chancing their arm off an exit, a Moana Pasifika mistake gave the Drua brilliant attacking position 20 metres out from the Moana Pasifika line. Despite ball going to ground during their attacking set, another opportunistic play by Droasese saw the fullback swoop in to score under the sticks for his team to recapture the lead.
The Drua delivered a double blow through Iosefo Masi who scored two tries in Round One against Moana Pasifika. He seamlessly broke free once again to score another double in Round 14.
The fan favourite couldn’t put a foot wrong and almost immediately after scoring his second he pounced on a loose ball to streak away and score a second-half double in a matter of minutes, and collecting a hat trick.
Down 47-27 before the 60 minute mark, the first half showed that Moana Pasifika were capable of clawing back the 20 point lead. With possession from a penalty due to Drua ill-discipline, Moana Pasifika opted once again for the line out maul. They were rewarded with a try to impact prop Abraham Pole, scoring his eighth try of the season.
With their tails up, an inspired Moana Pasifika team were relentlessly searching for a chink in the Drua’s defensive armour. Try scorer Abraham Pole looked set to score his second of the evening after great phase play, but was held up over the line.
From the goal line drop out, Moana Pasifika secured a five metre scrum on the back off multiple disciplinary infringements from the Drua. First-Five Christian Lealiifano broke the line himself to score a virtually identical try as the one he scored at Eden Park two weeks ago against the Blues.
Now 47-41 with ten minutes to go, the Battle of the Pacific was living up to everyone’s expectations and was setting itself up for a grandstand finish.
A clutch intercept by Fine Inisi in the 75th minute gifted Moana Pasifika with possession in the dying stages of the game. Subsequent infringements by the Drua meant that the visitors were able to secure prime territory through penalties. With a lineout ten metres out from the Drua line, Moana Pasifika looked poised to create history in Fiji with a final opportunity to claim their first win of the season.
With 90 seconds on the clock and a Drua prop in the bin, the ball was in the hands of Samiuela Moli at the base of his teams lineout. Pushing with the motivation of potentially winning their first game, Moli dove over to give Moana Pasifika a chance to secure an upset through the boot of Christian Lealiifano.
However, with time up on the official clock, Lealiifano’s conversion attempt was away to the left hand uprights, sending the home crowd in to jubilation but heartbreak for the Moana Pasifika players.
It wasn’t to be for Moana Pasifika in Fiji, but the hopes of Pasifika rugby live on in 2023 as the Fijian Drua inch closer to an opportunity to claim a spot in the competitions top 8 with this win.
The two teams this year have been separated by two points or less in both outings, and have produced exciting games that go right up until the 80th minute. The Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua rivalry is shaping up to be one of the most entertaining contests Super Rugby has ever seen, and Saturday’s 93-point outing in Lautoka will be one to remember.
Moana Pasifika v Drua
Try Moana Pasifika Havili 5’ – Conversion Lealiifano (0-7)
Try Fijian Drua Derenalagi 9’ – Conversion Lomani (7-7)
Try Fijian Drua Masi 13’- Conversion Lomani (14-7)
Try Fijian Drua Droasese 16’ – Conversion Lomani (21-7)
Try Moana Pasifika Lindenmuth 24’ (21-12)
Try Moana Pasifika Havili 28’ – Conversion Lealiifano (21-19)
Try Fijian Drua Sau 32’- (26-19)
Try Moana Pasifika Aumua 34’ – (26-24)
Penalty Moana Pasifika – Christian Lealiifano 42’ – (26-27)
Try Fijian Drua – Droasese 45’- Conversion Lomani – (33-27)
Try Fijian Drua – Masi 53’- Conversion Lomani – (40-27)
Try Fijian Drua – Masi 56’- Conversion Lomani – (47-27)
Try Moana Pasifika – Pole 59’ – Conversion Lealiifano – (47-34)
Try Moana Pasifika – Lealiifano 67’ – Conversion Lealiifano – (47-41)
Yellow Card- Fijian Drua – Tuqiri 79’
Try Moana Pasifika- Moli 79’ – (47-46)
Tries: Havili (2), Lindenmuth, Aumua, Pole, Lealiifano, Moli.
Conversions: Lealiifano (4/7)
Penalties: Lealiifano (1/1)
Tries: Derenalagi, Masi (3), Droasese (2), Sau.
Conversions: Lomani (6/7)See all news