‘One that got away from us’: Fiji’s fortress strikes again as Drua beat Force in washing machine-like weather


The Fijian fortress has continued, with the Drua holding on to put away the Force 31-13 in Lautoka on Saturday.

In dreadful, washing machine-like conditions where Churchill Park looked more like a water theme park than a footy field, the home side handled the conditions better by scoring a couple of early tries before putting the visitors to the sword via the boot of Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula.

The victory was the Drua’s eighth home win from their past nine matches, including their third straight to start 2024.

STINO BE SPLASHIN’ ????????#SuperRugbyPacific #DRUvFOR pic.twitter.com/NFYFbXz7tp

— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) March 30, 2024

It came despite back-rower Elia Canakaivata being shown a yellow card midway through the first half and star hooker Tevita Ikanivere handed a dubious upgraded red card at a cleanout on the stroke of half-time. Both cards came after interjections from the Television Match Official.

But despite having a tonne of possession and territory in the second half, the Force’s lineout and ball retention struggled the longer the game went on as the home side hung on.

“Obviously challenging conditions but this will feel like one we look back on and one that got away from us,” acting Force skipper Nic White said.

“They just played to these conditions a lot better than us. We had plenty of opportunities, we weren’t able to capitalise on the opportunities we were given.”

The Force started the game smartly, scoring from a rolling maul in the opening minutes.

But the early tactical smarts Simon Cron’s men started the game with quickly went out the window as the Drua quickly found their feet and turned the screws on the Force.

“I thought we started the game really well around a structured game against a side that plays well in unstructured [play],” White said.

“They played a more structured game, they kicked to a contest and hit these wide rucks a lot better than us.

“It’ll hurt to look at and one we’re going to have to look at.”

Salestino Ravutaumada scored a crucial try in the Drua’s big win over the Force at Churchill Park in Lautoka, Fiji. (Photo by Pita Simpson/Getty Images)

Fijian flyer Selestino Ravutaumada was sensational for the home side, with the winger a constant threat and his try in the 16th minute gave the Drua the lead and they never looked back from that point as Armstrong- Ravula’s boot came to the fore.

Tight-head prop Mesake Doge was one of the side’s best during his 66-minute showing and his decision to point to the posts proved telling, as their quality young fly-half banged over a couple of long-range penalties.

“As you can see on the field, it’s quite muddy so it’s just about playing smart,” he said.

“We can’t afford to go to the five metre [line] and lose the ball, so we might as well as take any opportunity to get points. We just kept running away from the Western Force, who put up a good fight today.”

Asked about the Fijian fortress they had built over the past two years, Doge said their impressive winning streak was about playing for their fans.

“Our family and our friends are something that we cherish as Fijians, and I know all these fans all here today would know that we’re very passionate about our rugby,” he said.

“But to come up and deliver, it’s always about the pride and standing up and fighting for what we believe.”

After the Drua struck back quickly in the match to score two early tries, Armstrong- Ravula ensured they would continue to build scoreboard pressure as he knocked over two penalties.

The Drua made it harder for themselves when Ikanivere was penalised for a clumsy challenge at the breakdown, where the hooker barely used his arms and made some slight contact with Bayley Kuenzle’s jaw.

Despite the winger not requiring any attention from the cleanout, the TMO interjected and not just called for a yellow card but upgraded the effort to a red card. It was a surprising call given the lack of force, but it meant the Drua were down to 14 for 20 minutes.

MR MASI! ????‍???? What a season he’s having so far!#SuperRugbyPacific #DRUvFOR pic.twitter.com/MJ2ZCcKeyY

— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) March 30, 2024

Although the Force made the Drua pay for the numerical advantage as Chase Tiatia crossed, a try in the opening minutes of the second half to centre Iosefo Masi proved to be the turning point in the game.

While Ben Donaldson banged over a penalty soon after, the Drua added to penalties themselves in quick succession to run out to a handsome 18-point lead after 57 minutes and that’s how the scoreline finished.

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