Battle of the top 8 spot


Winners are grinners. It was great to see the Swire Shipping Fijian Drua start well against Moana Pasifika in Western Sydney and then complete the job.

The Drua earned bragging rights against the other new team and the four points will help to avoid the dreaded wooden spoon in their debut season.

Moana Pasifika has a game in hand, but the Drua has a five point buffer in 11th spot, with Moana in 12th.

This year the top eight will contest the playoffs and the Highlanders are currently 8th on 22 points.

My mind keeps flashing back to the games that were there for the taking but the Drua just couldn’t close them out. Remember the narrow losses to the Force, Reds and Highlanders.

Head coach Mick Byrne admits his side wasn’t quite good enough on the day to win those games, but it proves there’s not a lot of difference between the teams vying for the final spot in the playoffs.

Another couple of wins and the Drua would have been right in the race.

Now the aim is to finish the regular season with a couple of efforts to be proud of.

It won’t be easy this week in Christchurch, and despite being back on home soil in Lautoka the following week, the Drua will need to pull off a major upset to deny the Chiefs who will have plenty to play for leading into the quarter-finals.

Despite no longer being able to make the finals, these last two games will give the Drua players a great chance to make a statement for next season.

Plus, Flying Fijians’ coach Vern Cotter will be very keen to see how they stack up against top Kiwi talent.

Like coach Byrne, I’m hoping some of the Drua stars will be selected in the National squad this year.

Vinaya Habosi should make either the Flying Fijians or Fiji 7s for the Commonwealth Games and Sevens Rugby World Cup.

Kalaveti Ravouvou and Apisalome Vota have proven that they belong in Super Rugby Pacific and will only get better with Test players around them.

Frank Lomani is already an established Flying Fijian. I’ve also seen enough from Mesulame Dolokoto, Zuriel Togiatama and Tevita Ikanivere to suggest they are also in the reckoning.

Props Manasa Saulo, Haereiti Hetet and Samuela Tawake are already capped, and a strong finish to the season will help their cause. But a blowout on the scoreboard in Christchurch and Lautoka must be avoided.

It’s a six-day turnaround this week.

The players have been reminded about the let-down after the emotion of playing at home in Suva for the first time… the following week they were spanked by 62 points by the Hurricanes.

After celebrating a win over Moana last week, the players must switch on or they will risk the Crusaders putting 60 plus on them as well.

We’ve seen what Scott Robertson’s men can do at home when they get on a roll, and they’re coming off one of their best wins this year against the Brumbies.

Despite their second win of the season last week coach Byrne hasn’t changed much, opting to stick to the same process.

While there was a lot to like about the performance last week, Byrne wants to see more improvements.

Putting phases together is still a work in progress. He wants them to control the ball for longer and give the strike weapons a chance to exploit ‘one on ones’ in the mid-field.

Most of the Drua squad grew up idolising Super Rugby stars, many of whom played for the Crusaders. Now it’s the Drua stars who get the chance to shine on the big stage.

Byrne wants Meli Derenalagi to become the Drua’s Richie McCaw.

If the captain keeps improving like he is there’ll be kids all over the Pacific wanting to be like Meli one day.

Another big improver is Big T, Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta. Unfortunately, he won’t play this week after copping a stray elbow to the head last week. But former captain Nemani Nagusa is a ready-made replacement at number 8 now that he is back from suspension.

Once again, the form guide isn’t indicating an upset win for the Drua, but let’s hope they build on last week’s win over Moana Pasifika and create
more excitement for their return to Fiji the following week.

Let’s make Lautoka a sell-out.

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