Fiji Airways Fijian Drua made a great second half comeback
and secured a crucial 40-36 win over Melbourne Rising in the round five clash
Down 26-7 at halftime, the Drua looked down and out against
a Melbourne side that controlled the set piece magnificently, scoring four
tries in the first term.
The Fijians’ hopes of a title defence seemed shot before an
incredible second-half turnaround which handed them the lead before a thrilling
final 20 minutes in which momentum swing several times.
The Rising dominated the set piece in the opening half,
controlling the tempo and tenor of the game with their control of the ball.
But that all changed in the
second term, with the Drua running in four unanswered tries in a massive
momentum swing that handed them a 28-26 lead with just under half an hour still
But when Rusiate Nasova was sin
binned for a high tackle on Rob Leota, the Rising regained the lead through a
penalty kick and seemed back on track with an extra man.
It did not change the Drua’s
intent though and they were next to score when Seru Vularika barged over, the
lead changing hands again to set up a thrilling finish which included a penalty
try, more lead swings and a final, desperate, defensive play that handed the
visitors an amazing victory.
The Drua suffered a blow in the
opening minutes when winger Aporosa Tabulawaki was left clutching at his left
knee before being helped from the ground.
It did not slow the Drua down
though, with the Fijians pinching the ball from Melbourne and pushing the pill
through hands for fullback Peceli Nacebe to score the opening try.
Melbourne answered back quickly,
opening their account when winger Nailati Ukalele – a member of their own
Fijian connection – touched down to cap a patient build-up.
The Rising were in again nine
minutes later when Ah-Mu Tuimalealiifano perfectly finished a set move from a
scrum deep in the Drua’s territory.
In a dominant forward showing,
Matt Gibbon crawled his way over from a pick and drive and the Rising were in a
fourth time before the break, with Tuimalealiifano scored his second of the
afternoon, finishing a great team effort to give the home side a 26-7 halftime
The Drua needed to be the first
to score in the second half if they were a chance of working their way back
into the game and they did that, capitalising on a turnover from the home side
and putting the ball through multiple sets of hands before finding Cyril Reece,
who crashed over.
If that was impressive, the next
effort was sublime. As the ball was spun wide, Nacebe found Jiuta Wainiqolo on
his inside, with the utility beating five defenders on his jinking 60m run to
The effort sparked the Drua’s
confidence, with players who looked plodding in the first half, suddenly lining
up in support as the ball was thrown around freely, leading to another
five-pointer, this time to replacement hooker Ratunaisa Nauma who showed great
pace to race away and score.
Enele Tikotani’s fourth
conversion gave the Drua a 28-26 lead in a massive momentum swing in the match.
A high tackle on Rob Leota led to
Rusiate Nasova being sent to the sin bin in the 60th minute, with the Rising
regaining the lead when James So’oialo knocked over the penalty.
Despite being undermanned, the
Drua were next to score when Seru Vularika barged over, the lead changing hands
Fijian Drua Coach Senirusi
Seruvakula said “We knew this was a very important game for us”.
He added “We did not had a good start as we were not
focused and gave away a lot of penalties in the first half.
“We spoke about it in the break that we needed to get back
into the game in the next 10 minutes if we are to have any chance of qualifying
into the semis.”
Fiji Airways Drua sits in fourth place with 13 points and
plays seventh placed Queensland Country next Saturday at Lawaqa Park in
Seruvakula said “It is another important game for us and we
need to do the process right.”
“We come back into camp on Wednesday and we just need to
fix all the mistakes from this week and come as a better prepared team for
final game” he said.