Fiji Drua shock Crusaders with historic win, analysis, score, highlights

All Blacks, Crusaders, featured, Fiji Drua, Rugby, Rugby Union, Super Rugby Pacific

For years Fiji and its surrounding island nations were exploited. That will still occur given the financial riches overseas, but now it’s time for respect to be shown.

After two heartbreaking defeats at home to the Highlanders (24-27) and Chiefs (34-35) last year, Fiji Drua shocked the champion Crusaders 25-24 at Churchill Park in their first home game of the season.

The Drua looked like they had blown the match after conceding two tries in the final seven minutes of the match, but a penalty in stoppage time to Kemu Valetini – the brother of Wallabies star, Rob – saw the Drua steal the game and send the packed crowd into a frenzy.

“First and foremost, glory and honour back to God. Without him we are nothing, but with him in it, we can do everything,” Drua hooker and captain Tevita Ikanivere said.

“Second, to the crowd, it was unreal today and today’s game was happy. The boys came out in the second half firing and we did the job and got the win.

“We prepared this week from Monday. We had the belief we could do it and we came and defeated a great Crusaders team, who have been winning for six years in a row and what better way to do it by doing it in front of our home crowd.”

Salestino Ravutaumada in action against the Crusaders at Churchill Park, on March 11, 2023, in Lautoka, Fiji. Photo: Pita Simpson/Getty Images

The victory shows anything is possible for Fijian rugby.

Sure the Crusaders were missing some star talent, but given the Drua, a development side more than anything, have only been in existence in Super Rugby for less than two years, it’s a giant statement of their potential.

Now, SANZAAR bosses, including New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia, should be getting of their high horse and add Fiji and Japan to The Rugby Championship, not in 2026 or later, but next year in 2024. Anything else is a travesty and financially selfish decision.

Is it a surprise either that the only packed crowd this year in Super Rugby has been in Fiji? Of course not. They are the beating heart of Super Rugby and the Southern Hemisphere must embrace their inclusion.

Crusaders captain Scott Barrett was shell-shocked in what was his 100th Super Rugby match, describing the milestone as “bittersweet”.

“I guess that’s not what we wanted, but we got what we expected which was a tough tour and a side at home,” Barrett said.

“I think (where we fell short was) playing for 80 minutes and errors through that. We turned our back and we saw how dangerous they were with their skill and running play.”

All Blacks and Crusaders star Sam Whitelock runs into the Fijian Drua defence in Lautoka, Fiji. Photo: Pita Simpson/Getty Images

Despite resting a number of their stars, including regular All Blacks Codie Taylor and Richie Mo’unga, the Crusaders flexed their muscle early by exploiting the Fijians at the rolling maul.

Veteran hooker Quentin MacDonald got on the end of two rolling maul tries to help the visitors to a 12-0 lead.

But for the next 60 minutes it was all the home side, as the Crusaders dropped passes, failed to hold onto possession and fell off tackles as the Drua looked at home in the energy-sapping heat.

The Crusaders went in at half-time leading 12-5 after Iosefo Masi’s try on the fringes, but coach Mick Byrne would have been pulling out his hair at the lost opportunities.

The former Wallabies and All Blacks assistant coach’s side dropped two balls with the tryline in sight in the lead up to half-time.

Fortunately the passes started to stick and the Drua continued to make inroads in the second half.

Ilaisa Droasese scored to help the Drua lock up the score in the 49th minute, before Joseva Tamani and Eroni Sau scored out wide to give the home side a 10-point lead.

Fijian-born All Black Sevu Reece looked like spoiling the party as he barged his way over on the fringes to give the Crusaders a late sniff of making a comeback.

Ecstasy looked like turning to agony when Ioane Moananu crossed from a rolling maul in the final minutes. Fergus Blake’s conversion from out wide gave the Crusaders a two-point lead.

But the Crusaders failed to take the kick restart and the Fijians were afforded one more chance.

Playing under advantage the home side attempted to snap a field goal, but Valetini proved the hero as he banged over a pressure-filled three points from in front to seal an extraordinary and memorable victory.

The victory sees the Drua jump ahead of the Crusaders on the Super Rugby standings after beating Moana Pasifika in their opening match.

Barrett said his side would have to cop the defeat on the chin.

“I think we can’t make excuses, we’ve got to take our hats off to the Fiji Drua. They were outstanding today and deserve that win,” he said.

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