Fijian Drua rundown Canberra Vikings in thrilling semi final - Green and Gold Rugby
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Fijian Drua rundown Canberra Vikings in thrilling semi final

Fijian Drua rundown Canberra Vikings in thrilling semi final

The Fijian Drua have overcome an 11 point difference at halftime to defeat the Canberra Vikings 35-28 to advance to their first final in the NRC. In a reverse of their first encounter, it was the Vikings that came out of the blocks the stronger team in hot and wet conditions, dominating possession and territory to race out to an 18-7 halftime lead.

But it would be the home side who would finish the better side on the back of strong performances from Alivereti Veitokani and their bench, to confirm their place in the NRC grand final.

The Match

In wet and hot conditions, both sides seemed to have altering strategies in terms of how to deal with the wet ball. Whilst the Vikings focused on gaining good field possession through kicking the ball, the Drua was business as usual throughout the first half, looking to entertain the crowd with expansive football.

This would be to their detriment in the first half, with the Fijian side coughing up the ball numerous times and they gave away penalties in bundles to march the Vikings up the field.

The Vikings would take advantage of their strong field position in the 10th minute, with towering Lock Rory Arnold held up over the line after some great scrambling cover defence by the Drua. The Vikings would eventually cross from the resulting 5m scrum, with Andy Muirhead crossing in the corner after a series of catching and passing from their backline. Replacement half Noah Lolesio, who was subbed on for Wharenui Hawera who departed with an apparent leg injury, missed the conversion from the sideline to keep the score at 5-0.

The Drua was their worse enemy in the first half, providing the Vikings with easy opportunity to get straight back into field position after conceding a short arm freekick before not throwing the resulting lineout straight. This put the Vikings in prime position, with winger Lausii Taliauli crossing in the corner after a lovely floating ball from Lolesio just evaded the grabs of Apisalome Waqatabu extended the lead out to 10-0 after 20 minutes.

The Drua would then bounce back from their poor start, with halfback Frank Lomani crossing right next to the posts after the Drua forwards marched the ball into position after some strong runs from the ruck. Waqatabu would easily convert from in front to bring the margin back to 10-7 after 28 minutes.

However, the Drua would fall back into the same rhythm of conceding bundles of penalties, conceding three within 5 minutes, which allowed Lolesio to convert the easiest of penalties to push the score out to 13-7.

The constant penalties would catch up to the Drua, with second rower Albert Tuisue yellow carded after numerous infringements at the 39th minute for lifting the legs of a Vikings player in the maul.

The Vikings would capitalise on the advantage, earning a penalty from a barging scrum 15m out, which saw flanker Rob Valentini cross after sneaking onto the wing after the scrum and he received the quick tap from Joe Powell, showing a clean pair of hands to pick the ball up at his shoelaces and score to make the score 18-7 at half-time.
Half Time: Canberra Vikings 18-7

Rays v Fiji Drua 2018 sml-9760

The Vikings would start the second half like they finished the first, with a penalty 5m out from another scrum infringement provided Tom Banks with an opportunity with quick ball, with the fullback taking on the line to score. Noah Lolesio continued his poor showing with the boot, missing the resulting conversion to ensure the score remained at 23-7.

At this point, it was great to see the return of Pete Samu from a knee ligament injury, or as Stephen Hoiles put during the coverage, a “knee replacement”.

Unfortunately for the Canberra side, this would also mark the return of the Fijians into the contest, as they have done several times within the regular season, with their half-time substitutions, along with an electric home ground sending the side into second gear.

The Drua would proceed to dominate the rest of the match, starting with a try to replacement prop Eroni Mawi after another strong series of 7+ phases of their forwards taking the ball over the advantage line from the ruck. Enele Malele would convert the try, reducing the gap back to 23-14.

They then reduced the margin back to 2 points, with Eramasi Rodrodro crossing under the posts after a strong run from their maestro flyhalf Alivereti Veitokani put them in prime position to strike with 20 minutes to go.

The flying Fijians would then show why they’ve become renowned as one of the most exciting teams in the NRC and World Rugby, with Veitokani once again breaking the line inside his own half, with some hot potato football putting Aparosa Tabulawaki over to give the Drua the lead for the first time in the match.

The Drua would confirm their place in the final, earning a penalty try with 4 minutes to go after a strong scrummaging performance, which was a complete 180 from the first half. The Vikings would score a consolation try after Tom Banks nearly crashed over from a clever Ryan Lonergan inside flick pass, with Lolesio crashing over after 12 phases near their goal line.

Full time: Fijian Drua 35 – Canberra Vikings 28


The Turning Point

The yellow carding of Albert Tuisue was the two-fold turning point of the match. The Vikings capitalised on the man advantage, scoring twice to put them out to a 17 point lead. However, after getting back to 15 men and injecting fresh blood into the contest, it was all the Drua in the final 30 minutes, allowing the Fijian side to run over the Vikings and ultimately secure the victory.

The GAGR MOTM

The MOTM is a tough choice, as it could have gone to any of the Drua forwards that came on at halftime to turn the tide. But I’m going to give to Alivereti Veitokani, once again he was crucial to their attack, his calmness in the situation and attacking flair was the difference in the end.

Rising Star Watch

I can’t split replacements Johnny Dyer and Enele Malele. Dyer defended strongly and broke 5 tackles in his short stint in the field, whilst Malele had a linebreak and a line break assist, along with being perfect with the boot which was ultimately the difference between the two sides.


The Details

Fijian Drua 35
Tries: Frank Lomani (28′), Eroni Mawi (52′), Eramasi Radrodro (60′), Aparosa Tabulawaki (68′), Penalty Try (77′)

Cons: Apisalome Waqatabu (28′), Enele Malele (53′,61′,69′)

Yellow Card: Albert Tuisue (38′)

Canberra Vikings 28

Tries: Andy Muirhead (13′), Lausii Taliauli (21′), Rob Valetini (40′), Tom Banks (46′), Noah Lolesio (80′)

Cons:

Pens: Noah Lolesio (34′)

  • Brisneyland Local

    Well GAGR;s what a great game in really hard conditions. Who says that you cant play running rugby in a swamp!
    The Drua stayed pretty disciplined. I thought the yellow was a bit harsh, but I am very Drua biased.
    That Vikings player wanting to go punch up with that huge Fijian forward is either incrediblly brave or an idiot!
    Powell looked good for the Vikings, which makes me wonder why he isnt in the Wallabies as the back up to Genia.
    Ah thats right, he is not a Waratah!

    • Bobas

      The yellow was soft, but so was the Penalty try, considering the Vikings missed all their conv. they could have had two of them.
      The injury to Harewa was huge and the big name players for the Vikings showed their class to do it without him, but the Vikings coach is an idiot for making wholesale changes up 4 tries to 1.
      To win the Fijians need to scrum like they did today and tone down their clear outs too far away from the ruck as they get away with it like no other team I’ve seen, and I’ve watched every Wallaby game v NZ since 1998.
      I’m going for the Spirit now, I mean the Force, even if DHP is overrated.

      • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

        How bad were the Vikings’ centres? Jesus they were painful at times – Jackson-Hope’s show and go leaving him with an unmarked Samu just outside of him and then just throwing it straight out. I don’t blame the replacement 10 as much as he wasn’t meant to be leading the team, but that was inexcusably poor from the centres.

        • Bobas

          I think the smart move would have been JJH to 10 and Simonay to 12 when Harewa went down, but who knows with that call.

        • MST

          I actually think that was the key tactical blunder that really cost them. Second only to having two small players as the centre pairing for that game.

        • Bobas

          But it worked until they got rid of their front row for subs who shat the bed.

        • MST

          Yep, the changes exposed them but I also think the forwards actually compounded the issue inadvertently. The Vikings really didn’t have any real punch or run up the middle so were going wide. When the penny dropped for the Drua the defence was all over the Vikings centre field play like a rash.

        • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

          Not at all convinced by JJH at 10. Thought the replacement 10 did okay other than kicking.

          At the end of the day they lost because of terrible ball security and errors in the last 20, coupled with everyone forgetting how to tackle.

        • MST

          You have seen him play 10? He outplayed Hawera @10 in the [NRC] games where he was required to sub in. Most of his limited opportunities at 10 have been very impressive.

        • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

          I have seen him there, and haven’t ever been super impressed. Seems to do better at 12 to me.

        • GO THE Q REDS

          100% agreed!

      • Huw Tindall

        Who’d have thought we’d be talking about how important Hawera is to a side after an up and down time in Super. Lots of criticism from the fans, including me, but he has a brilliant boot and has really stepped up as a playmaker. Hat tip to the Drua for another come from behind win though and even showed up in the front row in the second half which has been a known weakness. Good luck to Force or Country next week!

        • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

          I dunno if he will be able to make it up to super standard, as he was just so poor against rush defences, but if he did then it would certainly simplify the Brumbies’ playmaking woes.

          Otherwise, it’s still Wright and JJH fighting for 12 I think. If Simone can’t even start at NRC then I doubt it will be a first choice starter at super rugby.

        • Huw Tindall

          Yeah Irae Simone is a mystery. Killed NRC then went missing on Super Rugby.

        • Brumby Runner

          Very hard to show what you can do when you get less than 5 minutes on the field. JJH was very poor and should have been pulled at around 50 minutes.

      • Brisneyland Local

        Bobas, yeah really good point on the celan outs. Eventually they are going to get pinged. But I am just happy that they arent nibbling on ears this year.
        What was the Vikings coach thinking?
        I am stil going for the Drua. But the NRC is the pretty much the only thing keeping me watching rugby. Because the Wallabies surely arent.

      • Brumby Runner

        Two changes were forced on him early in the game through injuries. Unfortunately, the replacement THP had little to offer and Lolesio has a lot to learn.

        Arnold looked rooted when he was replaced, and similarly the change at LHP was about due when it happened. McInerney came on for Mann-Rea and immediately started to put pressure on the Drua ruck ball, while Samu had to get as much game time as was feasible to support his claim for an EOYT spot.

        I largely think the replacements were about right except for the late introduction of Simone. He should have been on for JJH just after half time imo.

        Probably the o ly change I wouldn’t have made was Lonergan for Powell. That is a huge step down in standard and Joe should be able to put in a good 80 minutes when required if not injured.

      • gazazi@
    • Nathan Williamson

      The yellow card was a soft incident, but when you give away 5 penalties in 10 minutes, it’s bound to come. Powell played well and should be in that spring tour side over Phipps, which isn’t saying much. The Drua I though were poor during that first half, shot themselves in the foot far too many times with errors and penalties. Despite this, their second half showed why they finished first in the regular and if they put that performance together for 80 minutes good luck to whoever faces them in the final

  • Huw Tindall

    What does it say about Aus rugby if the Drua win the whole thing!?

    • RugbyReg

      1) that we need to improve
      2) that we need to be commended for embracing our Pacific neighbours – one that we’ve ignore basically and one that saved us from bankruptcy about 50 years ago.
      3) that we shouldn’t be afraid to be challenged by good teams and to work out how to beat them
      4) that we have a spread of talent across 7 teams as opposed to the Drua’s one.

      Oh and what does it say about Fiji?

      1) that Fijians are wonderful rugby talents
      2) that they have exceptional talent on the islands
      3) that they have improved on last year where those Australian teams, you bemoan so much, beat them on 5 of 9 occasions we played

      • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

        Great comment. I hope people don’t forget that we should be commended for this and just focus on the negatives. I said on another thread that even if we aren’t a rugby powerhouse in the future, if we can provide more good opportunities for the Pacific Island nations for purely altruistic reasons, then we can at the very least be proud of ourselves.

        • Huw Tindall

          That’s it. Amongst the shambles that is rugby in Australia there are a few shining lights like 7s and NRC Drua.

        • Brisneyland Local

          Shining light, couldnt agree more. I love watching the Drua play. Their strength in broken play is unbelievable.

      • Huw Tindall

        Fantastic post Reg! Rugby is lucky to have such a passionate fan. No need to type more as you’ve nailed it.

      • Brisneyland Local

        RR, the other point I would like point is the influence of John McKee. From the national level down the influence that he has had is staggering. That influence, including the training, systems and processes has trickled down to the Drua. Senirusi Seruvakula has been mentored well, and has taken the opportunity with both hands and is doing a fantastic job. I am always vexed when the Wallabies play Fiji. How ever like last year when they gave us a real scare, this year I think they will beat us.

  • Gipetto

    That answers the question about why Pete Samu is not going on the end of year tour

    • Brumby Runner

      Coming back from a lengthy injury break, he wasn’t outstanding, but by that measure one Michael Hooper should not have been selected in any of TRC games after his dismal return from injury too.

      What a novel idea – players returning from injury must show they have fully recovered and regained form before being selected for the Wallabies. Maybe Jack Dempsey misses the EOYT because on his NRC displays he is not yet back to form.

      • D. Braithwaite’s The Brumbies

        I think we need Dempsey to go and hope that his form improves over the tour simply because he is playing in a position where we are so limited in terms of depth…

  • Keith Butler

    Didn’t see the whole game just picked up the highlights. Jeez the Drua front row havesome big units – makes Thor look a bit short and thin. Mind you great ball skills from what I saw.

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@NathW1997

Loved rugby since the day I could remember, got the nickname Footy to show that, watches Matt Dunning's dropkick on repeat

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