WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Super Rugby sophomores the Fiji Drua beat six-time defending champions the Crusaders in a third round match Saturday and blew some excitement into a competition fast losing public interest.
The last minute win in Lautoka added a note of uncertainty to a competition plagued by predictable results.
The Crusaders showed contempt for the Drua by choosing the match to rest most of their All Blacks and took a second-string team to play in front of the most avid rugby fans in the tournament.
It was a miscalculation of the public relations front and a costly one for their championship chances as they dropped points against a team most top sides would expect to beat and fell to eighth place on the table with a 1-2 record.
The Hamilton-based Chiefs and ACT Brumbies now are the only unbeaten teams in the tournament. The Chiefs beat the Dunedin-based Highlanders 28-7 and the Brumbies beat the Queensland Reds 23-17.
The Drua are fifth and share a 2-1 record with the Auckland-based Blues, the Wellington-based Hurricanes and the Western Force. The Blues beat the Hurricanes 25-19, bouncing back from a loss to the Brumbies, and the Force beat Moana Pasifika 21-18.
While the Drua won the match against the Crusaders with a penalty after the fulltime siren, Moana Pasifika were on the losing end of the same scenario as Bryce Hegarty kicked the winning goal for the Force after the siren.
The winning kick for the Drua was taken by Kemu Valetini, a replacement playing his first match in Super Rugby and the brother of Wallabies backrower Rob Valetini.
For the first half the match in front of packed bleachers at Churchill Park went as expected. The Crusaders dominated through its forwards and scored two tries from lineout drives.
But the Drua scored a try before halftime, shored up their scrum against a fading Crusaders pack and took control. They played at pace and stretched the Crusaders in energy-sapping conditions. With two tries they led 22-12 and the excitement of the crowd grew and fed the Drua’s performance.
The Crusaders rallied in the last 10 minutes and with two tries from forward graft took the lead with a sideline conversion from Fergus Burke.
The Drua knew they had one last chance, forced an error from the Crusaders and Valetini knocked over the winning goal from close range.
“We know we can play 80 minutes,” Drua head coach Mick Byrne said. “Last week we talked about circumstances that cost us points. It wasn’t our fitness, it was just the belief in ourselves to play 80 minutes.
“We’ve talked about it for a number of weeks now. We went out and showed ourselves that we can do it. This week we managed to keep 15 on the field and that’s what we can do.
“It’ll just be a great encouragement for our program and what we’re doing, especially for our players.”
Few other matches in the round matched the entertainment produced in Lautoka.
The match between the Blues and Hurricanes looked the best contest on paper and ended with the Hurricanes six points down and on attack. But once again discipline was an issue for both sides, mistakes marred attacking moves and poor tactical decisions made the match scrappy and dull.
The Brumbies and Chiefs both are worthy of their unbeaten records but are not due to meet until the 14th round of the tournament.
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