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Super Rugby: Pacific flair to end the new boys’ seasons

Tuesday 31 May 2022 | Written by RNZ | Published in Fiji, Regional

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Super Rugby: Pacific flair to end the new boys’ seasons
Henry Time-Stowers (front) and Moana Pasifika’s haka at the start of the game against the Brumbies at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland over the weekend. Photo: RNZ/22053009

Talk about saving the best for last: Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua both ended their seasons in fine style over the weekend - with the Drua mounting a stunning comeback to fall one point short against the Chiefs, while Moana Pasifika pulled off a huge upset over the Brumbies.

Both games very much summed up what everyone had hoped to see from these sides in their debut attempts at Super Rugby.

But it hasn’t been easy for either side.

The Drua didn’t get to play a game in front of their fans in Fiji until round 11, when they could experience their massive home ground advantage in the islands.

And Moana had to deal with wretched false starts to the season due to Covid-19 issues (both their own and those of other teams).

However, both teams were sold to an awaiting public as being high energy, high flying new additions that would breathe life into the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific season.

Did that happen? Well, yes and no.

Both sides missed the playoffs, which was expected, winning two games each. The much-anticipated clash between the Drua and Moana Pasifika was annoyingly played not only at a neutral venue, but also on a Saturday afternoon (NZ time) so plenty of people didn't even see it. The game itself was surprisingly one-way traffic, with the Drua running out 34-19 winners.

Of the two, the Drua certainly lived up to the hype of at least being entertaining on the way to their 12 losses. Their comeback against the Reds was incredible, scoring three tries in 10 minutes, a scene they duplicated against the Chiefs in Lautoka.

Moana Pasifika, not so much, but they did have an incredibly difficult schedule of playing all the New Zealand teams first that necessitated a far more conservative attitude.

In fact, you were just as likely to see Moana kicking for the corners and engaging in the much-maligned lineout drive tactics.

They relied heavily on the influence of former Wallaby Christian Leali'ifano, who, along with Levi Aumua and Henry Time-Stowers, could lay claim to being their best of the year.

But unfortunately, the one thing you could count on more than anything else was Moana being on the wrong side of penalty counts that often cost them dearly. They could have had a win over the Highlanders, but gave away five entries into their 22 that resulted in tries.

Which is why, in their win over the Brumbies, it was telling that they snapped that streak. Although there was a weird, albeit amazing, situation when veteran prop Sekope Kepu marked his 150th Super Rugby game in the worst possible way by getting sent off and Moana went up a gear and scored two tries, the game was actually won by simply playing smart footy and letting the Brumbies implode.

The tries were great, but what was even greater looking forward to next season was the composure.

While being in Australia’s warmer climates helped the Drua establish a home away from home, they clearly found New Zealand soil like some sort of kryptonite. Their two losses to New Zealand sides in Fiji were by a combined four points. The two losses to New Zealand sides in New Zealand were by 123.

So a bit of work to do there if they are to be a truly competitive team in the future, but the Drua’s ability to pack out their home games is something that Moana will be extremely jealous of. Much was made of how they could tap into Auckland’s large Pasifika community support, we'll have to wait till next season to see if that eventuates.

In fact, the Drua’s turnouts may well be the way to actually make the Super Round concept work. An entire slate of games in Fiji would be a seriously tempting package for New Zealand and Australian fans, and would do great things for the Drua’s profile.

While the Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika ended up where they were predicted to, the signs are there that they’re not going to end up as reincarnations of the Sunwolves.

In pretty much every aspect of society, the least-resourced suffered the most due to Covid-19, with Super Rugby being no exception. Let’s hope for a more even playing field in 2023.