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'The boys were just on fire': Drua turn frustration to ecstasy in Lautoka win

By Ned Lester
Taha Kemara with the ball for the Crusaders. Photo by Pita Simpson/Getty Images

The Crusaders hadn’t lost their opening three games of a Super Rugby season since 1996, but you can add 2024 to that record now the team have been dismissed by a firing Fijian Drua outfit in Lautoka.

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Both sides entered the round three contest without a win to their names in 2024, but it wasn’t the reigning champions who snapped that streak, instead having a nightmare start to new coach Rob Penney’s tenure confirmed. The Crusaders have been relegated to 11th place on the table.

Heading into the season, captain Scott Barrett was adamant the turnover in both on and off-field talent hadn’t dented the championship potential of his side, but it looks as if a new reality is starting to become clear for the serial winners.

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Following the loss in Lautoka, Barrett acknowledged some of the team’s weak areas and gave credit to their opposition.

“I think we just didn’t execute, we had multiple opportunities down there, particularly around our lineout and we just weren’t sharp and clinical like we hoped,” Barrett said on the match broadcast.

“We were clear on our game plan, it was pretty simple. We just didn’t execute. It was a greasy ball, little opportunities and if you give the Fijian Drua a sniff, they’ll really punish you.”

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Damp conditions made handling errors a prominent part of the contest, contributing to 20 Crusader turnovers.

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The Drua doubled their visitors’ post-contact metres and also forced them to make almost three times as many tackles.

Drua captain Meli Derenalagi told RugbyPass prior to the season’s start the Crusaders were the team he would most like to beat in 2024 and provided a far more joyful post-match interview following the win, dedicating the result to his team’s faithful supporters.

“The last two games we were frustrated and disappointed with two losses so coming in on Monday, the boys switched on their mindset. It’s our first home game so when we came in, it was quiet in the gym, back in Nadi, so I told the boys ‘I think we are on. We are tired of losing and those frustrations and disappointments’, we collected all together.

“So, this week when we came out, the boys were just on fire and tried to defend our turf.”

While the Drua’s home games are quickly gaining fame for the team’s winning record and vibrant atmosphere, Derenalagi also told RugbyPass he wasn’t interested in the home fixtures becoming the most feared in the competition, instead hoping they become the most exciting.

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The captain elaborated on the halftime messages the team’s coaching staff delivered at half time during the Crusaders-beating effort.

“The learnings was our defence, we should keep the pressure on and keep on moving forward, not waiting for them and try to bring that physicality to them.”

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