Super Rugby

Highlanders repel fantastic Fijian Drua




Highlanders beat Fijian Drua 24-27 after a historical, as well as sensational, Super Rugby Pacific clash at ANZ Stadium, Suva.

Despite being favourites, the gutsy Highlanders fought back from several deficits to beat a fantastic Fijian Drua on a monumental night for rugby Fijian rugby in the country’s capital city.

The teams shared three tries apiece in a thrilling end-to-end match played out to a passionate and partisan Suva crowd.

Tony Brown’s charges fought back from 21-10 down in the first half to run out winners, but only just.

Brown, who took charge of his 100th SR game for the Otago franchise, has never needed a win more than this.

The Dunedin side had only won once this season, and sat at the bottom of the log, just ahead of the Pacific islanders.

The Kiwis hung on by a thread to record their second win of a tough Super Rugby campaign.

This historic contest was the first-ever professional franchise Super Rugby match to be played in Fiji, and the hosts did not disappoint.

This emotional and much-anticipated match was played out to a full house and carnival atmosphere

The decibel levels were off the charts as the supporters shouted for their heroes to deliver.

And boy did they deliver. The fans had barely had time to sit before their team struck the first blow.

The ‘Mexican Wave’ had not even made its way around the ground before the visitors were on the board.

It did not, however, take long for the home team to strike again before the teams traded more blows in a stunning display of free-flowing running rugby.

A staccato second half, understandable after the pace and intensity of the first stanza, especially in the tropical humidity, saw the levels from both sides drop off.

The tourists scored 10 unanswered after the interval to end the losing streak.

Sam Gilbert, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, and Rhys Marshall dotted down for the Dunedin side.

Mitch Hunt, flawless from the tee, slotted two important goals and two conversions (10 pts) in another solid display at first five-eighth.

Frank Lomani, Vinaya Habosi, and Kalaveti Ravouvou scored for the Fijian Drua. Teti Tela added a penalty and three conversions (9 pts) to go with his assist for Ravouvou.

The Pacific islanders, however, ran out of gas in the second period as the Kiwis kept them scoreless after the break.

Fijian Drua take a shock three-tries-to-two seven-point lead at halftime over the Highlanders

The Fijian Drua took a sensational – and much deserved – lead over the Highlanders into the shed in Suva.

Lomani, Habosi, and Ravouvou’s converted tries gave the hosts an incredible 24-17 lead at halftime.

Tela also added a late penalty to his three conversions as Mick Byrne’s men thrilled the home support.

The visitors stayed in the contest through scores by Gilbert and Mikaele-Tu’u, and the boot of Hunt, who kicked a penalty and converted both tries.

It did not take long for the home team to get the crowd on their feet: Less than three minutes to be exact.

Kitione Taliga kick-started a sensational opening try on this emotional day after collecting a poor kick. Taliga gathered inside his 22 and charged forward.

The ball was recycled quickly to Habosi via Lomani and Apisalome Vota on the touchline.

The Fijian flyer broke down the sideline before drawing the last defender and sending Lomani away.

The scrumhalf cut inside Hunt and raced away under the posts to spark scenes of delight around the full ground.

The Kiwis hit back through Gilbert after Fetuli Paea was stopped by the base of the righthand post.

Hunt combined with Scott Gregory, from the set-piece attack, to send Gilbert over in the corner. Hunt levelled from the touchline.

Star winger Vinaya Habosi continued to run the Highlanders ragged as Fijian Drua took a breathtaking 11-point lead

Moments later, the Fijians pulled one out of the sevens’ playbook, going end-to-end from their 22 to cue delirium.

Habosi raced away down the sideline 70 metres to score under the posts to make it 14-7 after 16 minutes.

Mesulame Dolokoto won an important turnover inside Drua’s 22 as the Highlanders advanced. It kick-started another magnificent sevens-like score.

Drua shifted quickly to Joseva Tamani. The flanker sent a lob-wedge pass to the Habosi, who put on his jet shoes and afterburners to race away untouched for his fourth Super Rugby try of the season.

Hunt, under pressure from the crowd, slotted a goal to cut the gap to four at the beginning of the second quarter.

Minutes later, another sensational score had the ANZ Stadium rocking.

It was that man Habosi again, who flew down the touchline to set up the Drua on the Landers’ line.

Lomani sent the ball to Tela, who put in a grubber behind the visitors for the chasing Ravouvou.

The inside centre beat the covering Gregory to score. The crowd, by now, was going absolutely mental.

The Mexican Wave was ebbing and flowing around the boisterous ground as the Fijians led the Kiwis 21-10.

A scrum penalty led to an attacking lineout inside the Fijian Drua 22.

A lineout move led Mikaele-Tu’u shrugging off Tamani before beating Lomani and Ravouvou to score under the posts.

Hunt added the extras, but a late penalty after the hooter by Tela cancelled out the kick.

The Highlanders found their feet to take control of the second stanza while taking the sting out of the home support

Whatever Brown said to his side, it worked. While halftime seemed to take the sting out of the hosts, who did not reach the intensity or hights of the first stanza.

Hunt added an early second-half penalty to make it 24-20 after 49 minutes as the Landers grew into the game.

Brown’s charges kept coming, they had the better of the third quarter and should have scored well before Marshall flopped over the whitewash following a powerful rolling maul.

Hunt’s third conversion opened up a three-point lead for the New Zealanders with 17 minutes to play.

Despite having several good opportunities, Byrne’s side ran out of steam, as well as ideas, as they chased the win.

The Kiwis used their experience – and superior fitness – to hang on for a slender win in Suva.

Final Score: Fijian Drua 24 (24) Highlanders 27 (17)


Fijian Drua
Tries – Lomani, Habosi, Ravouvou
Pen – Tela
Con – Tela (3)
Drop –
Cards –

Tries – Gilbert, Mikaele-Tu’u, Marshall
Pen – Hunt (2)
Con – Hunt (3)
Drop –
Cards –

Match Officials
Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant Ref 1: Jono Bredin
Assistant Ref 2: Mike Fraser
TMO: Aaron Paterson


Fijian Drua: 15 Kitione Taliga, 14 Selestino Ravutaumada, 13 Apisalome Vota, 12 Kalaveti Ravouvou, 11 Vinaya Habosi, 10 Teti Tela, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, 7 Meli Derenalagi (captain), 6 Joseva Tamani 5 Ratu Rotuisolia, 4 Viliame Rarasea, 3 Manasa Saulo, 2 Mesulame Dolokoto, 1 Haereiti Hetet.

116 Tevita Ikanivere, 17 Timoci Sauvoli, 18 Samuela Tawake, 19 Isoa Nasilasila, 20 Kitione Salawa, 21 Simione Kuruvoli, 22 Onisi Ratave, 23 Kitione Ratu.

Highlanders: 15 Connor Garden Bachop, 14 Sam Gilbert, 13 Thomas Umaga Jensen, 12 Fetuli Paea, 11 Scott Gregory, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith (captain), 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Christian Lio-Willie, 5 Sam Caird, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Ethan de Groot.

Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Max Hicks, 20 Huge Renton, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Hugh Renton.

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