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What to expect from Super Rugby Pacific debutants Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua

By RugbyPass
(Photos: Getty Images/Photosport)

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With the first-ever edition of Super Rugby Pacific just around the corner, the RugbyPass Round Table writers from New Zealand and Australia – Alex McLeod (AM), Ben Smith (BS), Tom Vinicombe (TV), Nick Turnbull (NT), Jack O’Rourke (JO) and Jordan King (JK) – deliver their verdicts on how the upcoming 2022 season will pan out.

What would make a successful debut season for both Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua?

AM: After having spoken to members of the Moana Pasifika squad, the general consensus among their playing group is that a successful season will be achieved if they simply make their supporters and the wider Pacific community proud.

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Moana Pasifika will do exactly that just by taking to the field, especially after the recent Covid outbreak within their squad, although they are expected to endure some tough results, particularly against the Kiwi sides in the first half of the season.

However, after more than a quarter of a century of Super Rugby neglect, the inclusion of a Pacific team in the competition is a success in its own right, and a win or two here and there would simply be a bonus for Moana Pasifika in their debut campaign.

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Picking the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific champions | Aotearoa Rugby Pod
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Picking the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific champions | Aotearoa Rugby Pod

There were similar reservations about how competitive the Fijian Drua would be in their maiden Super Rugby Pacific season, but those concerns were crushed when they beat the Melbourne Rebels in a pre-season clash last week.

Granted, pre-season results must be taken with a grain of salt, but the fact the former NRC champions beat a Super Rugby franchise with a decade of experience behind them at the first time of asking speaks volumes of the Drua’s potential.

Equipped with Olympic gold medallists, Fijian test stars and top-class head coach in Mick Byrne, the Drua are an outside chance of making the quarter-finals, and an appearance in the play-offs would be an A+ performance from them in 2022.

BS: Having suffered a 61-7 defeat to the Chiefs in the pre-season with close to a full-strength side, expectations for Moana Pasifika have to be dampened as it will take time to build the franchise into a contender against the New Zealand sides.

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There is plenty of potential there after recruiting many players from the Hawke’s Bay provincial team, including Lincoln McClutchie and luring Danny Toala away from the Hurricanes.

How some of the individual players perform will be of interest, especially when they get the chance to play Australian sides.

The Fijian Drua present an element of surprise, particularly as they will play the Australian teams first. The fact that they stunned many to win Australia’s NRC in 2018 speaks to the side’s ability to put together a cohesive unit of Fijian talent.

The difference between Moana Pasifika and Drua is in how they’ve built their squads and how much autonomy the national bodies have over them.

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The Drua, although having private funding, have plenty of local Fijian talent and experience with sevens and test stars, which is aligned with the national interests of the Fijian Rugby Union.

By contrast, Moana Pasifika is an NZR-owned franchise and it remains to be seen whose interests they are aligned with. The Drua are probably more likely to find early success due to previous experience.

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TV: You would have to imagine that both Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua will have a few issues – both on and off the field – in their inaugural season competing in Super Rugby.

Realistically, victories are going to be hard to come by, especially for Moana Pasifika. The key thing, however, is that it doesn’t matter how big a gap there is between the top teams and the bottom teams, as long as there’s some competition to avoid a last place finish.

For Moana Pasifika, simply getting a few wins on the board would be huge for their season. The Drua may fancy themselves slightly more capable with the men at their disposal (and the opposition they’ll face in the first half of the season) and it wouldn’t be entirely out of the equation for them to nab a quarter-final placing.

While there are other metrics that need to be examined such as off-field engagement, Super Rugby ultimately has to be a competitive tournament regardless, and if the two expansion sides can show they’re semi-competitive from day one, it will be a successful season.

NT: Play authentic rugby. As a fan first and foremost, I am excited by the prospect of Moana Pasifika bringing the physicality that is in the DNA of their players. I am also excited by the prospect of the Fijian Drua running the ball in only a manner they can.

I think they will be unsuccessful in every meaning of the word if they attempt to play someone else’s brand of rugby.

I recall the Western Samoan side at the World Cup in 1991. Their brutality at the collision was unforetold. I had never seen anything like it and reached for my grandparents’ atlas to try and find where exactly this place called Samoa was as I was in awe of them.

If both Moana Pasifika and the Fijian Drua can play authentic rugby in year one, that will be success enough.

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JO: If one of Moana Pasifika or Fijian Drua makes the finals, that would be a great result for rugby in the Pacific.

Out of the two, I see Moana Pasifika more likely to scrape into the finals. They have a lot of Super Rugby experience in their squad, but time will tell if they have been given enough opportunity to gel. Early results from pre-season trials suggest maybe not.

The Fijian Drua will rely on the experience of their test players and sevens recruits to set the standard for the team in their inaugural season.

They will challenge plenty of teams, but ultimately they may fall short of enough wins to mount a finals campaign. Happy to be proven wrong.

JK: It may not sound like a lot, but putting up a fight for 60 minutes would be a success for me. If we’re going to call a spade a spade, both these teams are made up of guys who missed the cut for everyone else who make up the competition.

If they are able to get one over a side who has more experience at that level, more familiarity on the field and better resources, they will have exceeded my expectations.

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