Fijian Drua: The latest Pacific Island foray into professional rugby union

This team of amateurs from the Fijian Islands is creating waves in the Australian National Rugby Championship.

As the National Rugby Championship kicked off its fourth season, there was one storyline that many rugby fans were paying attention to: the Fijian Drua. Three rounds in, they have truly made their mark as they have improved drastically since losing to Brisbane City in the first round.

The Fijians have won their two most recent games, claiming the scalp of the NSW Country Eagles last week at Lawaqa Park. The Drua have boasted some big, hard-hitting, exciting talent that has, so far, proven they can compete with their Australian counterparts at this level.

Results so far

After losing a close contest 36-45 to Brisbane City in their first ever game, the Drua responded by defeating the Melbourne Rising by a comfortable scoreline of 45-24.

Their latest match, against the NSW Country Eagles, was their first home game, and in front of an impressive crowd at Lawaqa Park – home of defending domestic champions the Nadroga Stallions – the Drua put on a show of true entertainment value.

The Fijians boast that entertaining, exciting and aggressive “old school” playing style that has long attracted fans to the game. The team hits hard in both defence and attack, they throw the ball around which creates opportunities and plenty of space out wide, and therefore resulted in a masterclass of improvised running and attacking rugby against NSW.

On one play (the first clip in the video below), the Drua were camped well inside their own half. They slickly got the ball to the edge and through strong running, several sets of hands, offloads, and interplay, scrum half Frank Lomani crossed over for a spectacular try. This created the kind of noise in the grandstands that Super Rugby has only dreamed about over the last few seasons.

The Eagles, to their credit, held onto the game as long as they could. Though, they were out-muscled and out skilled, a rare double blow that not many expected their Fijian opponents would be able to deliver this early on in their existence.

The Fijian Drua staff has unearthed some special talents, such as their dynamic centre Eroni Vasiteri, the aforementioned number 9 Lomani, and their versatile and exciting fly half Peceli Nacebe. These players have exposed the talents that are hidden in the Pacific Islands local rugby competitions – especially in Fiji – and shown that they can mix it with the big boys of the rugby world if given the chance.

Next up for the Fijian Drua is the Perth Rising, who were last year’s winners and are the current leaders.  It will be an exciting match to watch and it will show whether the Fijian Drua has what it takes to merit a second appearance in the National Rugby Championship in 2018.

The future

While the early success of the Drua has proven their inclusion to be an outstanding move by the Australian Rugby Union (ARU), they should go further and establish multiple teams from Papua New Guinea, Tonga, and Samoa.

Perhaps this idea will step on the toes of Andrew Forrest’s new Indo-Pacific plan, but while the details of his competition remain relatively scarce, it’s nice to see tangible Pacific Islands rugby being played. The beautiful thing about this expansion into the Pacific Islands is the strength of support and validation by World Rugby for Pacific Island rugby as the team continues to impress.

It also benefits Australian club players and those on the cusp of earning a Wallabies call-up. Imagine promising Australia stars such as Tom Banks or Bill Meakes called into the Wallabies squad after a few tough hit-outs against international opposition. It would be another lesson in their rugby education. Getting battle-hardened in a tough NRC arena, they would be strides ahead in terms of their development, rather than potentially being a big weakness due to lack of experience.

This expansion could then fuel the talks for a new Super Rugby franchise based somewhere in the region, which would be an incredible development for rugby in the Southern Hemisphere.

Cautionary tales

I’m an idealist who believes everyone should be given the right to showcase their talent, skill and hard work. Realistically though, the issues of money and rugby politics that generally confuses and angers most fans will ultimately determine if there is more development for the recent Fijian Rugby foray into the professional ranks in Australasia.

If it is a one-stop advertisement gimmick by the ARU to attract fans back into their domestic scene, then shame on them.

This takes us back to the origins of Super Rugby, when a Fijian Team was invited by the then known SANZAR to play in the 1994-95 Super 10 competition, who were then excluded when the competition expanded into the Super 12.

The South Pacific Championship was a rugby union competition that was introduced in 1986 and contested through to 1990. The competition featured six teams: three provinces from New Zealand – Auckland, Canterbury and Wellington; two Australian teams – Queensland and New South Wales, and one team representing Pacific Island rugby, Fiji.

The South Pacific Championship was the predecessor of the Super 6 and Super 10, as well as the professional-era Super 12 and Super 14 tournaments that subsequently expanded to become the Super Rugby competition.

Those Fijian teams played an expansive style that left fans glued to their seats from whistle to whistle. It was all for naught, though, as those Fijian sides were phased out of their latter competitions. Hopefully, the Drua’s early success will lead to a much more solid future and involvement with the big boys soon.

Do you think this is the start of a permanent expansion into the Pacific Islands, or yet another one-off gimmick? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Meli Matanatoto

Crazy about Rugby especially Pacific Islands Rugby. Also trying to advocate for more involvement of Pacific Islands Rugby in matches against top Rugby Nations in my writing.

These are my two things I love, Writing and Rugby Union. Also played a bit of Amateur Rugby League when in university and enjoyed it so much as due to the collision factor.This is apart from making tackles that would be penalised in Rugby union like the shoulder charge before it was banned in 2014 which was absolutely an act long overdue but I still disagree with the tackle ban.