Waratahs wary of the big trap waiting against Fijian ‘freaks’, Brumbies prepare to face old mates

featured, Rugby, Super Rugby Pacific

Laughing off claims Fijian Drua will be the easybeats of Super Rugby Pacific, the NSW Waratahs are instead on guard against a first-round ambush from the competition’s newcomers.

Winless in 2021, the Waratahs enter their season opener on Friday night at Commbank Stadium with renewed confidence after an unbeaten trial campaign against the Queensland Reds, Brumbies and combined Shute Shield opposition.

The Tahs have no plans on letting all the momentum slip against a Drua outfit fresh off upsetting the Melbourne Rebels in their first and only trial last week.

“They were very strong,” the Waratahs’ former sevens specialist Dylan Pietsch said on Monday.

“The thing is with Fiji, they can score from wherever, whenever.

“So if you’re five metres out, they’ll somehow get an offload out and score from 100 metres — and they’ve done that to me many times.”

Drua coach Mick Byrne is playing down his side’s first-season prospects in the major leagues, but NSW attack coach Chris Whitaker is having none it.

Whitaker said the Drua’s talents were there for all to see during their initiation in the National Rugby Championship from 2017-19, including their triumphant 2018 campaign.

“They live for it,” Whitaker said. “They’re freak athletes. They’re not short on recruiting some talent, that’s for sure.

“You just have to look at that Rebels game.

“Whether they’re starting the game or finishing the game, they’ve all got natural ability and, once they start to click, they’ll be a dangerous team, that’s for sure.”

Whitaker said it’s imperative the Waratahs stick to their game plan and not fall into playing sevens-style rugby.

“Our biggest danger is turning it into like a Fijian style game. I think that’s what they want,” he said.

“On both sides of the ball we’ve got to be really disciplined and stick to what we’re doing best.

“We want to limit the amount of opportunities that we give them in the unstructured scenario — loose turnovers, loose kicks, anything like that.

“They can create something from nothing and, once they get on a roll and once you get in that unstructured type of play where there’s unforced errors, that’s the whole trick of the Fijians and the way they play.

“They play a high passing game to try to lure you into that as well.

“The moment you started to play like Fiji that’s when you make mistakes and that’s when you’re playing to their strengths.”

Meanwhile, the Brumbies are ready to face some familiar foes when they host the Force on Sunday and
Tom Banks and Ryan Lonergan say they can’t wait.

Banks hasn’t played since breaking an arm against South Africa in September, while it’s been more than eight months since Lonergan last stepped out for a match proper.

Tom Banks runs with the ball

Tom Banks of the Brumbies. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

The 23-year-old didn’t plan on the final match of last year’s Super Rugby Trans-Tasman in June being his season ender.

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But after being called into the Wallabies squad as injury cover for Brumbies teammate Nic White before the three-Test series with France, the classy halfback ended up staying in camp for the duration of the Rugby Championship as well.

While he impressed Wallabies coach Dave Rennie and even come under selection consideration, Lonergan never enjoyed any game time at international level.

Little wonder he’s champing at the bit to get stuck in against the Force.

“Yeah, it’s been a while,” he said on Monday.

“It was a great year – pretty long – but I’m just keen to get back into some footy now.

“I was in that Wallabies camp quite a while and, due to circumstances, couldn’t come back and play for the Vikings or anything.”

Lonergan’s experience with the Wallabies was invaluable, though.

“A couple of things to work on – there always is – and it fuelled that fire,” he said.

“It was so much fun being there. It would have been great to get a game – I obviously didn’t but it makes you want to come back bigger and better this year.”

Banks, too, is eager for 2022 to get under way.

“It’s been a long pre-season but a really good one,” the fullback said.

“My form has been really good but nothing compares to being out there (in a match proper).”

Banks and Lonergan are also excited at the prospect of facing off against former Brumbies trio Bayley Kuenzie, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa and Reece Tapine.

As much for the banter as anything.

“Obviously ‘Ray’ has come a long way. DK as well. I was living with Finesy so hopefully I’ll be able to see him out there as well,” Banks said.

“We know what they bring. They’re all threatening players so it’s going to be an interesting battle.”

© AAP

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