SPORTS

Analysis: Who’s Hot, Who’s Not For the Drua

Last Friday’s announcement of Fiji Rugby general manager Brian Thorburn to hold the fort as the Drua interim chief executive officer (CEO) is to get the ball the rolling.
06 Sep 2021 14:43
Analysis: Who’s Hot, Who’s Not For the Drua
Asaeli Tikoirotuma could be a suprise selection for the Fijian Drua for the Super Rugby Pacific 2022.

The stage is now set as the Fijian Drua have launched their Super Rugby Pacific campaign, which gets underway in February, next year.

Last Friday’s announcement of Fiji Rugby general manager Brian Thorburn to hold the fort as the Drua interim chief executive officer (CEO) is to get the ball the rolling.

It is understood negotiations on the salary packages for the Drua CEO and head coach appointees is now on-going.

Once agreed, the names will be presented to the Fiji Rugby Union (FRU) board of directors, who will consult New Zealand Rugby (NZR) and Rugby Australia (RA) before sealing the deal.

FRU board chairman, Conway Beg, said that Thorburn, through his wealth of experience, is the best person to drive the establishment of the Drua franchise.

“Brian has been the driving force behind the behind the Fijian Drua’s (Super Rugby) bid, and is ideally placed to oversee the significant remaining activity leading into the first games in Australia in 2022,” Beg said.

“He has unrivalled experience in sports administration, especially rugby, having been commercial director for Rugby Australia for 11 years and CEO for PGA Australia for six years.”

Thorburn has confirmed the announcements of the 37 players to be contracted, the 28-member coaching and managing staff along with some other developments are going to rolled out soon.

He also indicated the Drua squad should be having their first training run in early November as they gear towards the February 18 kick off.

Thorburn however, admitted that due to the delay in sorting out their (Super Rugby) licence, they missed out on a couple of players they were targeting since they’ve signed with other clubs.

FRU chief executive officer, John O’Connor, has indicated they have several Europe-based players being lined-up, our local-based players including our sevens’ players and those who were in our Under-20 national squad.

Flying Fijians and Bay of Plenty prop, Haereiti Hetet, told Radio New Zealand, that discussion of the Drua’s participation at the Super Rugby Pacific had been the top subject among them while preparing for their two Test matches against the All Blacks in July.

So, let’s take a look at players who could be considered for the Drua in their Super Rugby Pacific debut. We also have to take into account that we have to field a competitive team to take on the might of the Crusaders, Chiefs, Highlanders, Blues, Hurricanes, Reds, Waratahs, Force, Rebels, Brumbies and the Moana Pasifika.

FORWARDS

In the front row, Hetet is our go to man taking into consideration that he has been playing in the New Zealand National Provincial Championship (NPC) and also represented the All Blacks Maori.

Another contender is former Flying Fijians tighthead prop, Samuela Tawake, who had a successful stint with the Rugby United New York in the American Major League Rugby (MLR).

Tawake also played in the NPC for Canterbury in 2018 and Manawatu in 2019.

He anchored the Flying Fijians scrum in their 33-31 win over the Barbarians in Twickenham at the end of 2019.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tawake played for Naitasiri last year in the Skipper Cup comp and made Vern Cotter’s Flying Fijians squad to the Autumn Nations Cup.

Former Glasgow Warriors and now Tasman Mako’s Mesu Dolokoto is our front runner for the hooker’s position along with Suva’s Tevita Ikanivere.

Also, in the running are Utah Warriors hooker Veremalua Vugakoro along with prop Eroni Mawi who is with Saracens.

The presence of Edinburgh’s and current Flying Fijians openside flanker, Mesulame Kunavula, in Sigatoka, is raising a few questions on whether he is here to play for the Drua.

The 25-year-old has been the find of the year and scored two tries from the three Test matches he has played.

Also, veteran Nadroga strongman Nemani Nagusa is around after completing his contract with England’s Newcastle Falcons.

There are also indications that former Fijian 7s star forward and Olympian Semi Kunatani be could re-launching his rugby career with the Drua.

After winning the gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Kunatani played for Toulouse in the Top 14 and Harlequins in the Gallagher Premiership.

He also played for the Flying Fijians in the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan. He has been struggling to keep up with his form. For locks, lanky Apisai Tavuyaca is back home. He played for the Drua in the Australia National Rugby Championship before joining Italian club Zebre in the European competition. Then we’ve upcoming talents like Taniela Sadrugu, Rusiate Nasove, Manueli Ratuniyarawa, Necani Nawaqadau, Tomasi Naiduki, Meli Derenalagi, Vilive Miramira, Mateo Qolisese, Kiti Salawa and the list goes on.

For the old hands, let’s not rule out tighthead prop Manasa Saulo who has been playing well in the MLR along with former Drua backrower Eremasi Radrodro and hooker Ratunaisa Navuma.

BACKS

Flying Fijians’ Simione Kuruvoli is our top bet for the No.9 jersey.

Kuruvoli defied all odds in his sterling performance against the All Blacks in the first Test clash in July, where he held his own against Aaron Smith.

Kuruvoli is expected to face a tough challenge from Peni Matawalu.

Tuidraki Samusamuvodre who plays for New England Free Jacks in the MLR, is our likely man to man for first five eight spot along with Australian-based Teti Tela, who has got Super Rugby experience.

Others vying for the spot are Jone Manu, Vatemo Ravouvou, Kitione Taliga, Napolioni Bolaca, Josua Yavala and Peceli Nacebe.

For the centres we have Onisi Ratave from Bay of Plenty and the seasoned Serupepeli Vularika who has returned from a stint with LA Giltinis in the MLR.

We should not overlook former Canterbury Academy’s Poasa Waqanibau who also plays in the MLR with the New England Free Jacks.

For the wings, we’ve the talented Vinaya Haboisi, Levani Kurumudu, Waisea Nacuqu, Tira Welagi, blockbusting Veramu Dikidikilati and considerations should be given on Police Blue winger, Filipe Sauturaga.

Sireli Maqala leads the charge for the full-back position with Enele Malele and veteran Apisalome Waqatabu cannot be ruled out.

A surprise inclusion in the backs could be on 35-year-old Asaeli Tikoirotuma who still plays for North Harbour in the NPC. Tikoirotuma played centre for Chiefs under coach Dave Rennie when they won the Super Rugby competition in 2012 and was one of the joint top try scorers.

If 36-year-old Richard Kahui and 35-year-old Rob Kearney could do it for Western Force last year than why can’t Tikoirotuma?

And with his wealth of experience, he could very well be on his way to becoming our first Super Rugby captain.

For that only time will tell..

Feedback: leonec@fijisun.com.fj



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