Trailblazing Super Rugby club's unique 'battle'

4 months ago 102
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A maiden season for a Super Rugby expansion side is challenging in the best of circumstances.

But for the Fijian Drua, a global pandemic has added several layers of complexity as they prepare for their historic season opener against the NSW Waratahs in Parramatta on February 18.

COVID-19 roadblocks meant the Drua - who played in Australia's National Rugby Championship before graduating to Super Rugby Pacific - have based themselves in NSW's Lennox Head, rather than Suva, to prepare for the big dance.

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The Fijian Drua take part in an internal trial match in Ballina. (Fijian Drua)

Season one will be a nomadic experience, to say the least.

The Drua will play 'home' games at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium (rounds three and eight), Sydney's Leichhardt Oval (round five) and Parramatta's CommBank Stadium (round 13).

They also hope to play in front of their rugby-mad home fans at Suva's ANZ Stadium in round 11.

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The Fijian Drua at training. (Fijian Drua)

"We have growing confidence... and are buoyed by the announcement by the Fijian Government about the return of spectators to sports," Drua chief executive Brian Thorburn said.

"Fijian rugby fans are renowned for the vibrancy, noise and atmosphere they bring to stadiums. Our players are absolutely buzzing at the prospect of Drua fans, supporters and rugby lovers cheering for them at the stadium by bringing the sounds and colours of Fiji to these venues."

The Drua will get a good test of their readiness for Super Rugby when they meet the Rebels in Melbourne in their first, and final, external trial match on Thursday.

Fijian Drua coach Mick Byrne high fives one of his players at training. (Fijian Drua)

Drua coach Mick Byrne - the former AFL champion turned Wallabies and All Blacks assistant - has named a starting trial team featuring four Fijian internationals in Nemani Nagusa, Tevita Ikanivere, Samu Tawake and halfback Simi Kuruvoli.

Blindside flanker Meli Derenalagi is another player to watch after winning sevens gold at last year's Tokyo Olympics.

Kiwi Baden Kerr will steer the ship from five-eighth.

"They fly in every day at training and they've displayed their willingness to dig in," Byrne said.

"It's been a battle for them. We've trained probably harder than they've ever done in their lives, so they're being asked to do a lot and they just get up and keep coming."

No.8 Nagusa will captain the team after being lured back from the Newcastle Falcons.

Nemani Nagusa of Fiji makes a break against Australia in the 2013 Hong Kong Sevens. (Getty)

The former sevens star said the Drua's presence in Super Rugby was massive for the game in his homeland.

"It means a lot to us in Fiji, especially for the Fijian spectators," Nagusa said.

"Young Fijians who are playing in the local competitions, they can come and now have a team to work hard and try to get into to play against the world's best in a competition that we look up to and watched as a young kid growing up back at home. It means a lot and it's a huge opportunity.

Fijian Drua coach Mick Byrne has some fun with his players at training. (Fijian Drua)

"I'm really proud to be made captain and to be here as a Fijian.

"First game against the Waratahs, we want to focus on the game plan that the coaches have set in place for the guys.

"This is a big chance to express ourselves, to show Fijian flair but then keeping the structure that the coaches want and the game plan we have in place."

Roela Radiniyavuni of Fiji puts a fend on Charlotte Caslick of Australia at the Tokyo Olympics. (Getty)

Meanwhile, Rugby Australia announced on Wednesday that the Fijiana Drua women's team would participate in the 2022 Super W competition for the first time.

The team will be based in Australia and use the competition as preparation for the Women's World Cup, which kicks off in October in New Zealand.

"Our aim is to give as many opportunities to Fijian-based talent as we can, and this announcement certainly comes as another step in that direction," Fiji Rugby's general manager for high performance Simon Raiwalui said.

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