Drua drops anchor

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Swire Shipping Fijian Drua head coach Mick Byrne (left) with the winner’s during the Fiji Airways Drua Awards night at Sofitel Fiji Resort & spa Denarau, Nadi. Picture: BALJEET SINGH

I was hoping my weekly article would run for another couple of weeks, but the Swire Shipping Fijian Drua docked for the final time last week in Christchurch on a night when not many things went right for the team.

The Crusaders were defending a perfect home record when it comes to play-off matches, and they weren’t about to let the new boys in the Shop N Save Super Rugby Pacific upstage them.

The Drua might have upset the defending champions in Lautoka in Week 3 but Scott Robertson’s men made sure the opposition didn’t get on a roll early in the match.

The Drua were on the back foot from the beginning.

But while it was another tough loss on the road, there was still plenty for Head Coach Mick Byrne and the entire squad to celebrate in 2023. Last year the Drua won 2 games and scored 30 tries while finishing outside the Top 8.

This year they improved greatly to win six games, score 53 tries and finish seventh.

They beat two of the Top 5 teams the Crusaders and Hurricanes, while also downing the Reds, Rebels and Moana (twice). My favourite game to call was the 38-28 win over the Rebels in Suva.

The first half was the best 40 minutes they’ve played, and they deserved to be leading 33-7 at the break.

The second 40 against the Reds in Suva was the best second half they’ve turned on, scoring three tries to nil, keeping the Queenslanders scoreless and putting on 24 unanswered points.

If they were my ‘highlights’ the losses to the Force in Perth and Highlanders in Dunedin were ‘lowlights’.

Overall, I give the Drua a pass mark. The improvement was there for us all to see, but winning away from home is still a major problem and it must be fixed if this team is to become genuine contender for the title in 2024. I don’t have the answer.

Obviously the Drua love playing in front of their home fans and in hot and muggy conditions, but while visiting teams will have to adapt to playing in Fiji, the Drua must also get used to travelling and playing in cooler climates.

Hopefully another season under their belts will help. I thought there were many stand out performers and most were recognised at the Fiji Airways Drua Awards night in Nadi this week (see below).

Iosefo Masi probably had the Rookie of the Year Award wrapped up after the first few games. He was exceptional all season.

Tevita Ikanivere received two awards and rightly so. If he wasn’t the most consistent forward in the tournament, he’d be in the top 5.

When asked to take over the captaincy in Meli Derenalagi’s absence, he showed that he is also a capable leader.

Mesake Doge took most of the season to recover from injury, but his two Awards show just how valuable he is to the Drua.

Same for Simione Kuruvoli and I hope we see him injury-free at long last next year. Selestino Ravutaumada was a crowd favourite throughout and was rewarded for his flair and ability.

Not everyone can win an Award, but I’d like to acknowledge the effort that Frank Lomani, Joseva Tamani and Kalaveti Ravouvou also put in.

There could only be one Player’s Player of the Year. It had to be the Lock with the big motor Isoa Nasilasila.

Now the most capped Drua player after playing every game of the season. He was the ultimate team man. Locks rarely receive the accolades they deserve.

They usually don’t score tries or assist. They don’t make line breaks or kick and chase. But they are never too far away from the ruck, making tackle after tackle, pushing in scrums, and jumping in line outs.

Congratulations Isoa and all the Award winners.

Thank you to the fans who turned out at matches or watched on TV.

I’ve really enjoyed my time in Fiji calling the home games and I hope to continue next year. Vinaka.

• ANZ personal development award – Mesake Doge

• Sky Pacific commercial champion award – Simione Kuruvoli

• FBC Veiliutaki Award – Mesake Doge

• VT Solutions fan player of the year – Selestino Ravutaumada

• Fiji Care Rookie of the year – Iosefo Masi

• Vodafone try of the year – Meli Derenalagi

• Swire Shipping Dausoko award – Tevita Ikanivere

• Rooster Chicken players’ player of the year – Isoa Nasilasila

• Fiji Airways Head Coach’s Award – Tevita Ikanivere

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