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‘The one that got away’: Waterlogged Force thumped by Drua in Fiji

By AAP
Harry Potter of the Western Force with the ball during the round six Super Rugby Pacific match between Fijian Drua and Western Force at Churchill Park, on March 30, 2024, in Lautoka, Fiji. (Photo by Pita Simpson/Getty Images)

Western Force halfback Nic White was left to rue the one that got away after watching his team waste a prolonged numerical advantage in a 31-13 loss to Fijian Drua in atrocious conditions.

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The Force were a man up for a total of 30 minutes in Saturday’s Super Rugby Pacific clash at a rain soaked Churchill Park in Lautoka.

But instead of making Drua pay, the Force were outscored 20-8 across those stretches on the way to their fifth loss of the season.

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The defeat came just a week after the Force (1-5) stunned the Queensland Reds 40-31, and leaves their finals hopes hanging by a thread.

“This will feel like the one that we look back on, the one that got away from us,” White said.

“They just played these conditions a lot better than us.

“We had plenty of opportunities, but we weren’t able to capitalise. It’s going to hurt to look at.”

The Force arrived in Fiji a few days before Saturday’s clash to acclimatise to the heat, but it was driving rain and a heavily waterlogged pitch that greeted them on match day.

The visitors scored the opening try in the second minute through hooker Tom Horton courtesy of a 15-metre rolling maul.

Match Summary

4
Penalty Goals
1
3
Tries
2
2
Conversions
0
0
Drop Goals
0
119
Carries
87
3
Line Breaks
2
16
Turnovers Lost
20
8
Turnovers Won
8

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But the Drua scored the next 18 points to wrestle control of the contest.

Despite the slippery conditions, the hosts played their usual running rugby, and it often paid big dividends.

Winger Epeli Momo just made it in for a try with a diving effort in the corner after 12 minutes, and it was Fijian rugby at its best when they crossed again five minutes later.

Instead of kicking for touch after being awarded a penalty, Drua halfback Frank Lomani caught the Force defence napping with a quick tap and break before dishing the ball off to winger Selestino Ravutaumada.

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Drua No.8 Elia Canakaivata received a yellow card in the 21st minute for a shoulder charge, but despite being down a man the hosts kicked two penalties to extend their lead to 18-5.

Fijian hooker Tevita Ikanivere was handed a yellow card on the stroke of halftime for a dangerous cleanout, and this time the Force took advantage as winger Chase Tiatia went over in the corner to reduce the margin to 18-10 at the break.

Ikanivere’s yellow card was upgraded to red during the break, reducing Drua to 14 men for the first 18 minutes of the second half.

But once again Drua made a mockery of the numerical disadvantage, with five-eighth Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula dribbling a kick forward and centre Iosefo Masi racing onto it to touch down.

Two penalties to Armstrong-Ravula while his team were still down a man extended Drua’s lead out to 31-13 in the 57th minute.

“It was heavy conditions, but when we got here we knew that might happen,” Force coach Simon Cron said.

“We had a plan around it, but we didn’t execute it very well.

“And 36 missed tackles is too many.

“If you’re going to miss 36, you’re not going to win the game, so we’ve got to fix that.”

The Force lost fullback Harry Potter to a concussion in the first half.

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