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'We need to learn quickly': Fijian Drua coach's stern message after Waratahs loss

By Alex McLeod
(Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images)

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Fijian Drua assistant coach Brad Harris has issued a stern message to his players following their 38-14 Super Rugby Pacific loss to the Waratahs on the Gold Coast on Friday.

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The defeat was the sixth loss from seven games for the new expansion franchise, who were forced to play with 13 men at one point after captain Nemani Nagusa was sent off and halfback Frank Lomani was sin binned for dangerous tackles.

During their respective absences, the Waratahs scored four of their six tries to put the result beyond doubt by the 52nd minute.

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Speaking to media after the match, Harris – who was filling in for head coach Mick Byrne after he tested positive for Covid earlier in the week – said he was proud of the Drua’s effort, but made it clear improvements are needed for the weeks ahead.

“I haven’t had a chance to talk to Frank, but certainly I think we can’t fault the effort of the boys. The effort of the boys is there every week,” Harris said.

“We’re finishing the game strongly, and I think that part of our learning and our growth is that when pressure comes on in a game, we need to solve together, not individually, so I think that’s something that the boys are learning as they get more experienced at this level, and that is a big step-up for a lot of them.

“In terms of going down to 13 men in the second half, that was critical. We knew that at the five-minute mark in the second half, we were going to go to 15 [players].

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“At that stage, it was 17-7, so we were very much in the game at that point, but unfortunately we then went down to 13 men, we conceded a try, and instead of going back to 15 men, we went back to 14 men for the next 10 minutes.

“That’s the thing at this level. If we don’t adapt quickly and learn quickly, the scoreboard pressure will kill us in those instances, so we’ll talk about that with the boys and we’ll continue to have faith in them.

“We’ll continue to work with them because we know they’re talented, we know they’re growing, we know they’re learning, so there’s a lot of positive stuff, but we need to learn quickly because, as I said, we’ve got the Brumbies, who are a fantastic team, and then we’ve got five teams from New Zealand who will be sweating on mistakes if we continue to give them the ball.”

Harris pinpointed the slow starts the Drua have got off to in their matches as a key area of their game that needs improvement before their run of fixtures against the table-topping Brumbies, the five Kiwi teams and fellow newcomers Moana Pasifika.

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“Unfortunately we don’t seem to be learning how to start a game at this level,” Harris said.

“Our ball security let us down in that first 20 minutes four or five times, turned the ball over, didn’t allow ourselves to build the game that we wanted to build and try and apply some pressure to the Waratahs, but that’s a pretty consistent theme over the last number of weeks.

“We need to have a look at that this week, ask some questions of ourselves and learn to start the game a lot better, certainly.”

Drua first-five Teti Tela agreed with his coach’s assessment of his side, who were forced to relocate their camp to the Gold Coast on Wednesday due to rising floodwaters in New South Wales.

Tela and Harris refused to attribute their loss to those off-field distractions, though, with the former asserting that the Drua must eliminate basic errors from their game if they are to pick up a second win this season.

“All it is is the last pass or someone to finish off that easy catch-and-pass or whatever it might be, and we’re over for a try,” Tela said.

“We’ve always got that belief. We can score when we want to score, but, as Brad’s saying, it comes down to those basics – catching the ball, the knock-ons, just the little one percent mistakes, the basic mistakes are really costing us, especially early in the game.

“I have belief in the boys from the first minute right through to the 80th minute, but it’s just about holding onto the ball for us at the moment.”

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