AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND (AP) – The Fiji Drua had the last say in a match which saw 11 tries to edge Moana Pasifika 36-34 yesterday on the opening weekend of the Super Rugby Pacific season.
The Drua trailed 19-5 in the first half and didn’t lead in the match until the 77th minute when replacement winger Taniela Rakuro scored the try that gave them a narrow and thrilling win.
Both teams were physical but also willing to play the game at pace and run the ball at every opportunity. Moana Pasifika managed a slim advantage in the forward contest but the match was eventually decided by hard-running outside backs who traded tries in the second half.
The first try of the match came after only two minute to Abraham Pole for Moana Pasifika who wheeled around a lineout and crashed over from close range.
When Chris Apoua scored after a strong surge by Timoci Tavatavanawai, Moana Pasifika had a 12-0 lead after only nine minutes.
The Drua’s first try came in the 20th minute to Tevita Ikanivere who burrowed over from close range after strong preliminary work by Jone Koroiduadua, making the score 12-5.
Ikanivere’s second try in the 45th minute brought the Drua back into the game at 26-24 and Pole also had a double when his 51st-minute try stretched the lead to 31-24. Later, the highly-rated Auckland-based Blues produced a statement performance to start their 2023 campaign with a record 60-20 win at the home of the Dunedin-based Highlanders.
The powerful running of winger Mark Telea was a high point in a fast-paced match. But head coach Leon MacDonald, who recently was linked to the Scotland national team, will be concerned with the Blues’ discipline: They played the last 10 minutes of the first half and the first 10 minutes of the second half with 14 men after yellow cards and conceded too many penalties, especially near their line.
The Blues lost last year’s Super Rugby final to the Crusaders 21-7.
“I don’t want to bring up last year but we’re probably playing with a bit of fire in the belly from the disappointment last year,” Blues captain Dalton Papali’i said.
The Blues started strongly with tries to Telea, Beauden Barrett, Caleb Clark and Rieko Ioane to lead 31-6 after 28 minutes.
The Highlanders had a small resurgence before halftime and cut the lead to 31-20 at the break.
A try to Marcel Renata kick-started the Blues second-half scoring and with second tries to Ioane and Telea and another to Papali’i they walked away with the match.
On Friday to open the 15-round season, the ACT Brumbies beat the New South Wales Waratahs 31-25 and the Hamilton, New Zealand-based Chiefs rallied from 10-0 down after 20 minutes to defeat the defending champion Crusaders 31-10 in Christchurch.