Tough welcome to Super Rugby Pacific for Fijian Drua in Waratahs clash
Losers no more, the NSW Waratahs have opened the inaugural Super Rugby Pacific season with a drought-breaking 40-10 victory over popular and passionate newcomers Fijian Drua.
Backing up their impressive unbeaten trial run, the Waratahs ran in five tries to one on Friday night to banish at least some of the bitter memories of last year’s humiliating winless campaign.
The bonus-point triumph snapped a 13-match losing streak stretching some 538 days since the Waratahs beat the Melbourne Rebels in their final game of the 2020 Super Rugby AU season.
For how long remains to be seen, but the big win also elevated the Waratahs into unfamiliar territory as early competition leaders.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve put on a performance like that, that we’re really proud of,” said Waratahs captain and man of the match Jake Gordon.
“It’s been a long pre-season, it’s good to see the boys put on a performance like that against a challenging Fijian team.”
With high hopes of crashing the Waratahs’ party, the Drua must have felt right at home in steamy, Suva-like conditions before kick-off as an army of Fijian fans flooded through Sydney’s CommBank Stadium gates for the historic encounter.
The Fijian fanatics were treated to an emotion-charged performance of ‘Na Bole’ from the Drua, a spiritual pre-game war dance designed to steel the competition debutants for battle.
It looked to have done the trick early.
Renowned for their flamboyance, the Drua also brought physicality to the equation as inspired captain and No.8 Nemani Nagusa engaged in a set-to with Waratahs hardman Lachie Swinton.
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As promised, though, the Waratahs, intent on not falling into any Fiji-style razzle-dazzle, were happy to take the first points on offer through the trusty boot of flyhalf Ben Donaldson.
The Tahs’ first try, in the 13th minute, then came through old-fashioned pick and driving with Will Harris burrowing over next to the posts and Donaldson making it 10-0.
Donaldson kept the scoreboard ticking over with two more penalties before hooker David Forecki cashed in on a strong Waratahs driving maul.
Struggling at set-pieces, the Drua’s only points of the half came from a Baden Kerr penalty as the home team took a commanding 21-3 lead to the break.
If there was any doubt about the Waratahs going on with the job, they were dispelled barely a minute into the second half when prop Angus Bell offloaded like a playmaker to put Lalakai Foketi over in the corner.
The Drua’s No 1 was more dumb bell a minute later, loosehead Jone Koroiduadua yellow-carded for a foolish lifting clean-out on Porecki to leave the Fijians a man short for 10 minutes.
Bell crossed himself when the Drua were a player down before Gordon iced his dazzling display with a runaway intercept effort.
Asked what the Waratahs learnt during their depressing 2021 season, Gordon said: “How resilient the group is and how many actual good blokes we have in our team.
“To go through a year like that and not have guys back-stabbing each other shows the resilience in the group – and we got paid today.”
Nagusa deservedly had the distinction of scoring the Drua’s historic first try in the competition in the 62nd minute.
But his side, while spirited, was never a match for the Waratahs in their maiden outing at Super Rugby level.
– Darren Walton
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