Drua Success Boosts Fiji RWC Campaign: Mckee

The table-topping Fiji Air­ways Fijian Drua are not only poised to upset the Aus­sie applecart by winning the 2018 NRC, but they can help Fiji take down some big-name rivals
04 Oct 2018 10:31
Drua Success Boosts Fiji RWC Campaign: Mckee
Fiji Airways Drua reps Jone Manu is being chased by Enele Malele during training at the Prince Charles Park in Nadi on October 4,2018 .Photo: Waisea Nasokia

The table-topping Fiji Air­ways Fijian Drua are not only poised to upset the Aus­sie applecart by winning the 2018 NRC, but they can help Fiji take down some big-name rivals – in­cluding the Wallabies – at the 2019 World Cup.

That’s the hope of Fiji Airways Flying Fijians coach John McKee, at least, who has been watching on happily as the Drua have hit red-hot form in the opening half of their second season in the NRC.

They sit atop the ladder after five rounds, with four wins and a loss, and they average a whopping 42 points a game.

McKee’s Flying Fijians side is pri­marily made up of Europe-based professionals, but the Drua players are all drawn from the largely ama­teur ranks who play “on island” in Fiji.

Just as Australian Super franchis­es, and to a lesser extent the Walla­bies, use the NRC as a pathway tool, McKee is also increasingly relying on Drua players for national call-ups.

And he forecasts that by next year the likes of Frank Lomani and star playmaker Alivereti Veitokani will not just be involved in their World Cup campaign, but be major con­tributors too.

“That programme is going to be massive for us,” McKee told RUG­

“There has been quite a lag for our locally based players between play­ing domestic rugby and playing at international level, who probably don’t get enough competition play­ing at the higher levels of the game.

“But having that Drua campaign over eight to 10 weeks, and having the players in a more high perfor­mance environment, we will really develop our best young players on island.

“For me, immediately, I saw last year the local players who came on the November tour were much more ready for the high levels of the game than they had been previ­ously.

“So from a Flying Fijians perspec­tive, that five or six local players who will make the cut, that they get to play in a high-performance envi­ronment is really valuable.”

The importance of having a local pathway tier for rising stars was made all the more apparent this week when the Fijian Schoolboys team beat a New Zealand Barbar­ians Schools side 15-10.

But, like Argentina before them, Fiji are hopeful the distinction between home-based and Europe-based players will soon be extin­guished, via inclusion in Super Rugby.

“For me, from my perspective as Fiji coach, I think that would be a great thing, to have some of the best Pacific players maybe not play­ing in Europe but playing in a Su­per Rugby team.

“It would be great for not just the Super Rugby competition, I think it would be great for Australian rugby because a team like that can generate a lot of interest in Aus­tralia. There is quite a level of Pa­cific populations in Australia so it could boost the interest in Super Rugby here.

“So there are certainly talks go­ing on and hopefully it does lead to­wards a Pacific team in maybe the next format of the competition.”

In the meantime – and in the poten­tial event that there is no expansion to include a Pacific or Fijian fran­chise in Super Rugby in coming years – McKee hopes Drua players will be picked up by Aussie or Kiwi Super teams.




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