A big day of activities planned by Fiji Rugby, culminating in the NRC match between their top the table Drua and the NSW Country Eagles, was somewhat curtailed by a tropical down fall prior to the game. Would the wet weather stymie the Fijain flair we’ve come to expect from this Drua outfit, giving the Eagles an unlikely advantage on the back of their Waratah-ladden forward pack and astute halves?
No. The answer was very much no.
Fear of the wet weather making the ball slippery were almost immediately nullified as Fiji were across the line almost immediately. Perhaps it was more slippery jerseys as new starter flanker Jone Navori strolled through the Eagles defense only to off-load to his ever present scrumhalf, Serupepeli Vularika, to dive over for early points.
Clearly some strong direct running was the order of the play for Fiji as they adjusted to the slippery conditions. Or not. The Eagles lineout showed early signs of wonkiness and that man Vularika was there to scooop on the loose ball and race off down field. Naturally he had copious support options at his beckoning and some delightful off-loading, including a beaut from Albert Tuisue, released winger Tabulawaki down the flank to score another try. The home team was up 12-0 with less than five minutes on the clock.
The Eagles, to their credit, retained their composure and on the back of their dominant scrum were able to control possision and a little bit of territory. It saw a very early change in the front row with big propr Luke Tagi coming on to sure up the scrum. The Drua scrum settled but the pressure remained on so much so that Vularika fouled and was sin binned.
However the Eagles showed nothing and the dominace at the scrum and numerically could not be utilised. Fiji pounced on the slightest turnover and were off and running down the field again. Soon their hooker Mesulame Dolokoto was he himself freed up down the wing and ran with tremendous skill beating tackles, chipping ahead and regathering close to the try line. A couple of penalties against the Eagles resulted in number 8 Eremasi Radradro barging his way over from a tap play to further the Drua lead.
Unfortunately for Wallaby fans, Tolu Latu’s throwing went from worse to worse and the Fijians were almost salivating anytime the Eagles received a lineout throw. This time it was Tuisue who was at the back and ready to take advantage of the long throw before bounding away for a 35m try.
It meant that Latu was actually pulled by his coach Darren Coleman and replaced by Mahe Vailanu. Vailanu would in fact be the first Eagle to cross the line, after the ful time siren, in the most basic of ways. A driving maul from a 5m lineout seemed the only way they could score considering their ineffectiveness in attack eslwhere. And so it would be with the Mack Mason convesion meaning the half time score was 24-7 to the Drua.
It may have been a quick try at the start of the first half, and it was just as quick in the second. There may have been hope in the Eagles if they managed to score first points, but that hope was soon removed as winger Levani Kurumudu scored his fifth try of the season.
Ten minutes later and the Drua were in again. It wasn’t so much opportunistic counter attack either as some beautiful attacking lines from a lineout made the space out wide for Tabulawaki to score his second of the afternoon.
The game undoubtedly lost its structure and got bogged down a little in the mess of a wet game with a dominant team. The Eagles were putting together some more consistent phase play, but couldn’t break through. Similarly the Drua were still producing some magic play however the final bounce often just went the wrong way or the Eagles managed to scramble in defence.
Soon enough it went the Drua’s way as an off-load from Jone Navori found Apisalome Vota outside him for an easy try, as Eagles players were left stranded and injured across the park.
Vota put the closing remarks on the game with a try that just typified the Drua. That man Navori again ran a fantastic line and then Fiji did what Fiji do and the ball was recycled with the replacement back the one to end up with the ball in his hand over the try line.
All up the Drua were superb in conditions that didn’t necessarily suit their style. The Eagles were multiple levels below and now run the risk of finishing the season without a win.