WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — The Dunedin-based Highlanders spoiled the Fijian Drua’s homecoming in Super Rugby Pacific on Saturday, rallying from 21-10 down to win 27-24 in the Drua’s first-ever home match in the capital Suva.
The Drua had been forced by COVID-19 regulations to play their previous matches this season in Australia. Saturday’s match marked the first time a Fijian Super Rugby team has played a home match in Fiji.
A capacity crowd of 15,000 at the national stadium in Suva saw the Drua score three tries to take a comfortable early lead. But the Highlanders found their way back into the match in the second half as it became more structured and they were able to kick into Drua territory and work from a dominant lineout.
The match still was in the balance in the final minutes. The Drua attacked from any scrap of possession. But the Highlanders just were able to hold out to secure only their second win of the season.
“That was a full 80-minute effort,” Highlanders captain Aaron Smith said. “What an occasion! It was awesome to be part of a bit of history, the first Drua game over here. It was a hell of a game and I’m so proud of our boys for sticking in there."
The Drua shocked the Highlanders with a superb try after only three minutes. Kitione Taliga set in motion the try when he fielded a kick within his own 22. Vinaya Habosi charged down the touchline and linked with scrumhalf Frank Lomani, who scored.
The Highlanders quickly replied with a try to Sam Gilbert, created by Smith and Scott Gregory.
But the Drua had home fans in a frenzy when Habosi sprinted almost 70 meters down the sideline to score their second try. Habosi was involved again as the Drua placed themselves on attack and flyhalf Teti Tela put in a grubber kick from which center Kalaveti Ravouvou scored.
The Highlanders cut the lead to 24-17 by halftime with a try to backrower Marino Mikaele-Tu’u. A second-half try to replacement hooker Rhys Marshall put the Highlanders in a position to seal their win.
“We knew the Highlanders were going to come at us but I’m so proud of the boys for their effort,” Drua captain Meli Derenalagi said. “We gave everything to try and stay in it on the field and play 80-minute rugby.
“They gave their all to Fiji.”
The Fijian team tweeted: “Nothing compares to playing at home. Even though we didn’t get the win, we are grateful for the chance to bring Super Rugby to Fiji to showcase our growth.”
In the second of three matches Saturday, the New South Wales Waratahs received a standing ovation from their supporters after walking off the field at halftime with a 17-0 lead at Sydney over the Christchurch-based Crusaders. The Waratahs then held on for a 24-21 win over the 12-time Super champion team.
It was the Waratahs’ first win over a New Zealand team in three years.
Former sevens star Dylan Pietsch scored the game’s first try and fellow winger Mark Nawaqanitawase also crossed early to give the hosts a 14-0 lead.
Crusader Hamish Dalzell was red-carded for a dangerous tackle on Wallaby skipper Michael Hooper, who had to leave the field in a dazed state late in the second half. The Waratahs took full advantage with a rolling maul penalty try that also led to Crusaders flanker Pablo Matera being yellow-carded.
Down to 13 men and trailing by 10 points, the Crusaders still rallied with a late try to Fletcher Newell but the Waratahs held on for the win.
The Crusaders had rested four All Blacks, including star playmaker Richie Mo’unga.
The Melbourne Rebels won their third match of the season, beating Moana Pasifika 26-22 in the late match Saturday. The Rebels led 14-10 at halftime and handed the new Pasifika side its eighth loss in nine matches.
On Sunday in the final match of the 11th round, the ACT Brumbies will have a chance to move into a first-place tie with the Auckland-based Blues if they can beat the Wellington-based Hurricanes and secure a bonus point.
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