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Super Rugby Pacific: D-Day matches for Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika
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Super Rugby Pacific: D-Day matches for Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika

Fijian Drua's Tevita Ikanivere (front in green) leads the pack during training in Perth ahead of the team's clash against Western Force in Round 12 of the Super Rugby Pacific on Saturday, May 11, 2024. Photo: Fijian Drua

Fijian Drua’s Tevita Ikanivere (front in green) leads the pack during training in Perth ahead of the team’s clash against Western Force in Round 12 of the Super Rugby Pacific on Saturday, May 11, 2024. Photo: Fijian Drua
Photo: Fijian Drua

It’s D-Day for both Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika in Round 12 of the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific competition.

In short, this Cultural Round is the decisive round for them in terms of their dreams of reaching the final in football, because losing this weekend closes the door to progress for them.

The bad day at the office against the Western Force (12th) will send Fijian Drua (8th) further down the ladder, and the situation is the same for Moana Pasifika (9th), who will face the Chiefs (4th) for the second time this year.

This week’s comparison looks something like this:

  • Drua must win to get four points. If they do that, they will have 21 points to their name after this weekend’s match.
  • But Drua will have to see if the Highlanders beat the Crusaders in Dunedin. A Highlanders win will keep the team in seventh place.
  • If Moana wins Pasifika and Drua loses, Moana will secure four points and jump to number eight.
  • If Moana and the Drua both lose and the Crusaders win against the Highlanders, the defending champions will jump to number eight and surpass both Pasifika teams.

That’s something both the Drua and Moana Pasifika camps are playing with as they prepare for their crucial matches.

Moana Pasifika will be the first to compete, meeting the Chiefs at Auckland’s Mount Smart Stadium on Friday. While Drua plays the final match of the round late at night, around 11.55pm on Saturday (NZ time).

Fate in their hands

Drua head coach Mick Byrne said the fate of the team rests entirely with the players.

Byrne said the team will have to decide for themselves whether they make it to the final stage, which starts with the Force battle in Perth.

“Games drive the results,” he told the media on Wednesday.

“Other teams are going to win and we still have eight and four to go. The message is: take control and here is an opportunity to win games, both on the road and at home.

“Everything is in our hands.”

Byrne said they are confident after preparing following the Brumbies loss last weekend.

But he knows it will have to be a mental game for his team to pull out the win.

“We beat them in Lautoka. If we can play our best rugby on our day we will be competitive and have a real chance,” he said.

“They have real belief after what they got out of the game against the Brumbies last weekend in Canberra and that gives a lot of confidence.

“But it has to start with our mentality.”

Making the right choices on the field and the right decisions from the coaches will need to improve, especially after two wrong decisions against the team in Canberra.

Bryne said they are learning and hopefully they can improve against the Force, who will also be looking to avenge their previous loss in Lautoka.

There is one change to the starting lineup, with fullback Iliesa Droasese returning.

This weekend’s match will be Drua’s 40th in the Super Rugby Pacific series.

Flyhalf Isaiah Armstrong Ravula, who retains his number 10 jumper, is the second highest points scorer in the short history of Fijian Drua so far. He currently has 84 points in his first season.

Hooker Tevita Ikanivere has reclaimed the title of ‘Most Fijian Drua Appearances’ with 33 matches to date.

Meanwhile, the Force are also hurting after losing two games in New Zealand in the past fortnight.

They have an outside chance of qualifying – and a win against the Fijians at home will be a boost for them.

Fijian Drua matchday 23: 1. Haereiti Hetet, 2. Tevita Ikanivere, 3. Mesake Doge, 4. Mesake Vocevoce, 5. Isoa Nasilasila, 6. Vilive Miramira, 7. Kitione Salawa, 8. Meli Derenalagi (c), 9. Peni Matawalu, 10. Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula, 11. Taniela Rakuro, 12. Michael Naitokani, 13. Iosefo Masi, 14. Selestino Ravutaumada, 15. Ilaisa Droasese; Reservations: 16. Zuriel Togiatama, 17. Emosi Tuqiri, 18. Samu Tawake, 19. Leone Rotuisolia, 20. Motikiai Murray, 21. Simi Kuruvoli, 22. Kemu Valetini, 23. Epeli Momo.

Western Force matchday 23: 1. Marley Pearce, 2. Tom Horton, 3. Santiago Medrano, 4. Jeremy Williams (c), 5. Izack Rodda, 6. Will Harris, 7. Carlo Tizzano, 8. Reed Prinsep, 9. Nic White, 10. Ben Donaldson, 11. Chase Tiatia, 12. Hamish Stewart, 13. Bayley Kuenzle, 14. George Poolman, 15. Kurtley Beale; Reservations: 16. Feleti Kaitu’u, 17. Harry Hoopert, 18. Tiaan Tauakipulu, 19. Lopeti Faifua, 20. Michael Wells, 21. Henry Robertson, 22. Sam Spink, 23. Henry O’Donnell.

The Moana Pasifika line-up for the clash against Chiefs on May 10, 2024. Artwork: Moana Pasifika

The Moana Pasifika line-up for the clash against Chiefs on May 10, 2024. Artwork: Moana Pasifika
Photo: Moana Pasifika

Moana Pasifika faces a tough confrontation

Moana Pasifika returns to where it all started: Mt Smart for the Cultural Tour.

They face the Chiefs, who currently sit at number four in the table.

Assistant coach Tom Coventry said it will be a tough challenge as the Chiefs have proven to be a strong competitor in the competition so far.

“The Chiefs have stood out in this competition. They are a strong team and they will be looking to get into good form at the end of the season,” said Coventry.

“It’s going to be a big challenge for us. The last time we played them we were poor and couldn’t measure up, so we’re going to try to close that gap this week.”

Coventry said a setback for them is missing a number of senior players who should be rested this weekend.

That includes captain Sione Havili Talitui plus flyhalfes William Havili and Christian Leali’ifano.

“Some of our guys have been traveling quite a bit and it’s taking its toll,” he said.

“We have a group that has worked very hard with our coach while we have been away. It’s an opportunity to give them a chance and get our squad back together.”

It may not be the strongest team in Moana Pasifika.

But the coaches are hopeful that the team can hold its own in the match.

Former Chiefs team member Lalomilo Lalomilo will make his Moana Pasifika debut at center against his former club.

The skilled full-back will have the chance to impress by partnering Pepesana Patafilo in midfield.

North Harbor halfback Siaosi Nginingini has been benched and should also make his debut later in the second period.

Coventry said Nginingini has worked diligently all year to earn his place in the playing 23.

Manu Samoa international and hooker Sama Malolo will lead the team.

The match is scheduled for Friday evening at 7:05 PM.

Moana Pasifika matchday 23: 1. Sateki Latu, 2. Sama Malolo (c), 3. Suetena Asomua, 4. Tom Savage, 5. Allan Craig, 6. Miracle Fai’ilagi, 7. Alamanda Motuga, 8. Lotu Inisi, 9. Aisea Halo, 10. D’Angelo Leuila, 11. Nerai Fomai, 12. Lalomilo Lalomilo, 13. Pepesana Patafilo, 14. Nigel Ah Wong, 15. Danny Toala; Reservations: 16. Tomasi Maka, 17. Abraham Pole, 18. Sione Mafileo, 19. Semisi Paea, 20. Irie Papuni, 21. Siaoisi Nginingini, 22. Otumaka Mausia, 23. Kyren Taumoefolau.

Chiefs matchday 23: 1. Ollie Norris, 2. Samisoni Taukei’aho, 3. Reuben O’Neill, 4. Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 5. Tupou Vaa’i, 6. Simon Parker, 7. Luke Jacobson (c), 8. Wallace Sititi , 9. Xavier Roe, 10. Josh Jacomb, 11. Daniel Rona, 12. Quinn Tupaea, 13. Anton Lienert-Brown, 14. Liam Coombes-Fabling, 15. Etene Nanai Seturo; Reservations: 16. Tyrone Thompson, 17. Jared Proffit, 18. Sione Ahio, 19. Hamilton Burr, 20. Tom Florence, 21. Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22. Rameka Pohipi, 23. Gideon Wrampling.

In other Super Rugby matches this weekend, the Reds take on the Rebels in Brisbane on Friday evening, the Blues take on the Hurricanes on Saturday, the Highlanders take on the Crusaders in Dunedin while the Waratahs take on the Brumbies.