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Fijian Drua boost engine room with announcement of five new forwards

By Alex McLeod

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The Fijian Drua have continued their off-season signing spree with the addition of five new players to their inaugural Super Rugby Pacific squad.

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In the fifth wave of player announcements made by the new expansion franchise, the Drua confirmed the arrivals of props Manasa Saulo and Samuela Tawake, loose forwards Kitione Salawa Junior and Joseva Tamani, and lock Sorovakatini Tuifagalele.

With 47 test caps and two World Cup appearances to his name, Saulo is by far the most experienced of the newly-named quintet.

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The 32-year-old joins the Drua from Rugby United New York in Major League Rugby [MLR] and has previous playing experience with Toulon and London Irish in Europe.

Interim chief executive Brian Thorburn said the acquisition of someone with Saulo’s experience is crucial for the Drua given the youthfulness of the squad.

“We are delighted to reveal our most senior squad member in Manasa Saulo,” Thorbun said.

“As Drua No 23, he brings a vast wealth of knowledge and experience to what will be a very young squad. He has been to two Rugby World Cups and fans will remember him as part of a scrum that surprised the Wallabies in 2015.

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“Manasa is a real product of the Fijian rugby system, having been a part of the national age-group teams, Sukuna Bowl and provincial rugby.

“He is also an international journeyman, playing the top-level competitions of France with Toulon and the UK with London Irish. His experience will be invaluable.”

Saulo will be joined in the front row by one-test youngster Tawake, who has professional pedigree by having played for Canterbury and Manwatu in New Zealand’s NPC, as well as Rugby United New York in the MLR.

“Samuela Tawake is one of our rising stars who has already earned a Flying Fijians cap,” Thorburn said.

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“He also came through our U20s programme, has played for Canterbury and Manawatu in New Zealand’s NPC, and is well known for both his scrummaging and mobility around the park. We know he will fight hard for a place in our matchday squads.”

A product of Fiji’s sevens system, Salawa Junior is one of the youngest members of the Drua squad at the age of just 20, but Thorburn expects him to make an impact at the franchise, where he will play alongside a number of fellow sevens stars.

“Kitione Salawa Junior, is a star from our domestic competition and sevens programme. At just 20, he was a strong contender for a place in that final squad to the Tokyo Olympics.

“He is young, fit, and is absolutely eager to go. In a squad of talented back rowers, I expect that he will make the coaching staff take notice.”

It’s in the loose forwards where Salawa Junior will compete for starting roles with Tamani, who is a former squad member of the Waratahs in Super Rugby and the Melbourne Rising in the now-defunct National Rugby Championship.

“After making waves for Ovalau domestically, he has been with the Melbourne Rising in Australia’s NRC competition,” Thorburn said of Tamani, who can also cover lock.

“He has also been part of the wider Waratahs squad as an injury cover in 2021 Super Rugby, so has already been exposed to this environment.

“Joseva is another one of those forwards who can run like backs that Fiji is blessed with, and we’re excited about what he brings to the Fijian Drua.”

Tuifagalele, meanwhile, is an experienced second rower within the Fijian domestic game, and Thorburn said it was exciting for a homegrown player to be rewarded with a Super Rugby contract.

“He brings his strong domestic rugby and Fijian Latui experience, along with his try scoring prowess to our squad. He has been consistent in his local performances and now has the opportunity to make a name for himself in Super Rugby.

“It is always a proud moment for all of us at the Fijian Drua and Fiji Rugby when a homegrown talent like him is rewarded with a professional contract.”

Confirmed Fijian Drua signings for 2021 Super Rugby Pacific

Props: Jone Koroiduadua, Manasa Saulo, Samuela Tawake, Melu Tuni, Kaliopasi Uluilakepa

Hooker: Tevita Ikanivere

Locks: Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, Chris Minimbi, Isoa Nasilasila, Ratu Leone Rotuisolia, Sorovakatini Tuifagalele

Loose Forwards: Meli Derenalagi, Raikabula Momoedonu, Nemani Nagusa, Rusiate Nasova, Kitione Salawa Junior, Joseva Tamani

Halfbacks: Simione Kuruvoli, Ratu Peni Matawalu, Serupepeli Vularika

First-Fives: Napolioni Bolaca, Kitione Taliga

Midfielders: Vinaya Habosi, Kalione Nasoko, Kalaveti Ravouvou, Apisalome Vota

Outside Backs: Onisi Ratave

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Fijian Drua boost engine room with announcement of five new forwards

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