October 27, 2018
The Fiji Airways Fijian Drua created history today by becoming the first non-Australian team to win the National Rugby Championship after beating defending champion Queensland Country 36-26 in a pulsating final in Lautoka.
A big Fijian crowd filled up Churchill Park to cheer on the locals who were determined to give their best at home and end their campaign on a high note.
The visitors were first to score in the 5th minute through a Chris Feauai-Sautia try.
Towering Number.8 Eremasi Radrodro leveled scores after powering through from the back of the scrum. Fullback Apisalome Waqatabu converted successfully to give the hosts a 7-5 lead.
Lock Peni Naulago barged through the Country defence to score Drua’s second try but mistakes in a couple of line-outs gave the advantage to Queensland and 18-year-old Jordan Petaia used his strengthen well to avoid three tackles and touch down- this leveled scores at 12-12.
Hardworking lock Albert Tuisue finished off an epic 23 phases of Fijian Drua pressure and crashed over the try-line for their third try.
Hooker Mesulame Dolokoto sprinted down to score in the right corner just before the halftime break, but his try was disallowed as his right foot went into touch while grounding the ball.
Drua led 19-12 at halftime and Tuisue got his second try of the match in the 48th minute and a successful conversion from Waqatabu further extended their lead to 26-12.
Fijian winger Filipo Daugunu pulled one back for the visitors two minutes later to narrow the gap to 26-19 and keep the champions in the contest.
Coach Senirusi Seruvakula sent in a number of replacements to keep the pressure and the momentum of the game going and one loose ball off a hit on Jock Campbell opened up the chance for NRC rising star Alifereti Veitokani to run over and stretch things to a 14-point margin, the largest of the game.
Efi Maafu struck off an unstoppable lineout maul and dived in to score Queensland’s fourth try and narrow the gap to only a converted try.
But the Drua were more determined to win and were much hungrier to win every possession and make as many hard tackles possible and as such, one pivotal scrum gave them a penalty and a chance for Veitokani to seal the title with less than two minutes to go.
The Mosese Voka Captain side only lost one match throughout the season and created headlines in Australia with its outstanding performance in every round of the NRC.
By Reginald Chandar