Super Rugby: Fidjien Drua aims for final in first season despite difficult start


Drua Onisi Ratave's new signing scores for Bay of Plenty against Hawke's Bay in the Ranfurly Shield game on Sunday.

Kerry Marshall / Getty Images

Drua Onisi Ratave’s new signing scores for Bay of Plenty against Hawke’s Bay in the Ranfurly Shield game on Sunday.

Fijian interim general manager Drua, one of Super Rugby Pacific’s two new entrants for 2022, said the depths of the islands are such that a place for the eight-team final is possible next year – a result that could knock an Australian team out of the playoffs.

“I think it’s really hard to predict, and you don’t want to put yourself in place by setting a goal that can’t be achieved,” said Brian Thorburn. Thing.

“And you can’t expect a new franchise created in such a short period of time to be instant success.

“So I’m not suggesting for a moment that we compete for the final, but I would like to think that we would aim to be in the final, in the top eight. It is a goal to which we must aspire.

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Thorburn’s remarks capture the blend of excitement and realism that must be applied to Drua.

They announced their first five signings on Monday – including Bay of Plenty excitement machine Onisi Ratave, Sevens assistant Napolioni Bolaca and Fiji test half-back Simione Kuruvoli – and another group of players will be unveiled at the start. of the next week.

Head coach role will be announced on Thursday – current Fijian high performance general manager Simon Raiwalui has excellent credentials – and Thorburn said only one round sponsor and one shorts sponsor remain outstanding by one point from a commercial point of view.

Fijian half-back Simione Kuruvoli impressed against the All Blacks in July and will be part of Drua's squad.

Joe Allison / Getty Images

Fijian half-back Simione Kuruvoli impressed against the All Blacks in July and will be part of Drua’s squad.

Momentum is clearly building for Drua, although not everything has been smooth.

New Zealand Rugby offered Drua a conditional license in April, but the unconditional license was not confirmed until September after months of feuds between NZ Rugby and Rugby Australia over the Super Rugby Pacific format.

“There were definitely times when we weren’t sure if this was going forward, absolutely,” said Thorburn. “And there were times when we looked at different models, if we joined one side of the Tasman against the other if the parties couldn’t get along.”

This uncertainty reduced the time Drua and Moana Pasifika had to assemble squads, but Thorburn said the focus was now firmly on the future and purring on depth in Fiji, and the transformational impact that Drua had. reportedly on the side of Fijian tests.

“I saw the depth chart which goes from one to six in each position [for the Drua], and that’s strong enough, ”Thorburn said. “The player production chain in Fiji is just huge.

“We’re a one-team, once national model, which is unique. This is one of the reasons I think that over five to ten years the payoff for the Flying Fijians will be huge.

“But we are also a country where we have a very solid provincial structure. The Skipper Cup is the top eight of the provincial terms, and the Vanua [Championship] is the next 16, so there are 24 provinces, each fielding a senior team and 21 and 19. “

These enviable gaming resources mean the Drua have a different recruiting policy than Moana Pasifika, who has indicated that several former All Blacks or Wallabies could be included in their inaugural squad.

Napolioni Bolaca will be a key player for the Drua in 2022.

Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Napolioni Bolaca will be a key player for the Drua in 2022.

“It’s just not our strategy,” Thorburn said. “If we have a particular weakness because we don’t have as much depth or we have injury issues, or we haven’t come out, we get someone from Europe that we really wanted…

“At the moment, we only envision one person in this kind of category for next year.

“The vast majority of our team, we absolutely focused and engaged and ready to roll.”

The Drua will always be competing for their players. Eyebrows rose in Australia on Monday when the North Queensland Cowboys signed Fijian Olympic gold medalist Sevens Iosefo Masikau and fellow Sevens star Taniela Sadrugu, both of whom had trained at the club’s facilities. the NRL during the Oceania Sevens in June. Both players were likely to win Drua contracts.

However, the new boys still appear capable of forming a competitive unit for their first Super Rugby Pacific campaign, when they are based in Australia due to Covid-19.

“I certainly hope that the introduction of Drua and Moana will bring some real energy and excitement, and our style of play will light up the competition,” said Thorburn.

“The other thing goes back to July, I think a lot of people, especially in New Zealand, saw how the Flying Fijians went in that particular first test.

“Remember they were out of their 40s and had only one workout for this test, and they really pushed them [the All Blacks]. ”

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