THURSDAY 25 MAY 2023. In a piece of DHL Super Rugby Pacific history, the Fijian Drua welcome Moana Pasifika on to Fijian shores.
Saturday’s Round 14 match in Lautoka will be a monumental occasion for both organisations. It is an amazing opportunity for Moana Pasifika to visit one of the many Pacific Island’s they represent, travelling to Fiji for the very first time and connecting with their fans in Fiji.
This Pacific blockbuster will be the fourth match the Drua have played at their homeland, dubbed a fortress, this season. They have won three out of four games against the defending champion Crusaders, the Rebels, and the Hurricanes.
A milestone moment for our Pasifika people across the world, this match represents much more than rugby. Thevision of both organisations was to grow the quality of rugby in the islands, and this will be showcased as they compete against each other on the biggest stage this Saturday. While it’s been an amazing learning experience for the two teams to face off against the best club sides in the world, the growth and development over the past two years has shown both the Drua and Moana Pasifika can be competitive. Regardless of who comes out on top this weekend, the entire Pacific will celebrate this milestone matchup in Lautoka.
The two teams met earlier this year in the opening round of the competition where a 5,000-strong crowd at Mt Smart were treated to one of the games of the season. An absolute spectacle of Pasifika rugby brilliance, the Drua sealed a 36-34 win in a 77th minute game-winner by debutant Taniela Rakuro. If the 11-try opener is anything to go by, the local crowd will be in for a spectacular affair.
Last week, Moana Pasifika suffered a 41-7 loss in their final home game against the Crusaders. The fans came out in numbers to support their team and provided an electric atmosphere that influenced an enjoyable game to end the season.
In his penultimate game as Head Coach, Aaron Mauger has full faith in his newly named 23 to get the job done in Fiji this weekend. Producing one of his most experienced line-ups, Mauger’s side will be looking to make a statement as they round out their campaign for 2023.
Ezekiel Lindenmuth has been an offensive workhorse this season, averaging almost 10 carries a game. Returning to the starting side, the powerful prop will combine with the ever-consistent hooker Luteru Tolai and Sosefo ‘Apikotoa to form the front row. Oringinally from Wellington, ‘Apikotoa currently has a 100% tackle success rate, and will play an instrumental role alongside Lindenmuth and Tolai in providing an edge and toughness to his team.
Last week’s starting locking duo in Michael Curry and Mike McKee were late scratches from the team but will return to the 4 and 5 jerseys respectively. A picture of consistency, the pair have been among the most efficient players in the team this year in tackle completion.
Penitoa Finau returns to the line-up and steps into the number 6 jersey for his second start of the season. The Bay of Plenty Steamers flanker joins the formidable Alamanda Motuga and captain Solomone Funaki to complete the loose trio. Leading by example all season, the relentless Funaki sits first equal in the competition for total tackles, and top of his team for total minutes played. In what is promising to be a gut-wrenching physical battle, Funaki will without a doubt lead his team around Churchill Park, but expect Motuga to be right beside him with an equal work-ethic.
Also making his second start of the season, Jonathan Taumateine gets the nod after a series of consistent performances after returning from injury. The Manu Samoa international brings an intense physicality that is seldom seen in the halfback position and will look to match the Drua’s x-factor and energy.
The maestro Christian Lealiifano makes his eighth start for the season and is named at First Five-Eighth. As the facilitator of an explosive backline, the fly-half is averaging a defender beaten a game himself on top of almost 200 kick metres a game. The 26-cap Wallaby’s leadership will be invaluable for his team as Saturday’s match in Fiji will liken to the atmosphere of an international test match.
Henry Taefu will slot in to Second-Five this week after last running out in the 12 jersey as captain at Sky Stadium two weeks ago. The physical mid-fielder is another internationally capped leader that will be the focal point of his backlines defence and crash balls.
Combining again for the first time since Round 11 is the devastating Fijian duo of Levi Aumua and Timoci Tavatavanawai. The centre and wing duet have led the competition all year in defenders beaten and have proven to be two of the hardest men to put down. Virtually unstoppable one on one, Aumua has shown his diverse skillset outside of ball carrying over the last few weeks and will feed off an exhilarating crowd.
Superstar winger Tavatavanawai will return home to a hero’s welcome, with the Queen Victoria School alum always shifting into another gear when he faces off against his countrymen. Completing nine runs and beating a staggering 13 defenders in their Round One match, look for the Fijian duo to have an inspired game as they lead their team with ball in hand.
Moana Pasifika’s Man of the Match last week against the Crusaders Tima Fainga’anuku is named for his third consecutive start on the wing. Last week’s lone try scorer offers another big frame in the backline that has proven difficult for defenders to take one on one.
Rounding out the starting fifteen as the most capped player for the year, William Havili, named at fullback for his 13th appearance this week. The Tasman Mako outside back has been a stalwart of the backline this year and has been a consistent performer that has put teams on notice with his left boot.
A star-studded bench will be called upon early this Saturday as the intense heat has shown to be an obstacle for many visiting teams. Mauger has decided on a 6-2 split, with six forwards and two backs on the bench. This is testament to the physicality the Drua play with. The bench combines the classy experience of Samiuela Moli, Chris Apoua and Ereatara Enari with the youth and excitement of Abraham Pole, Mahonri Ngakuru, Miracle Faiilagi, Jonah Mau’u and Fine Inisi.
Moana Pasifika v Fiji Drua
Saturday 27th May, kick off 2:05pm NZT
Churchill Park, Lautoka, Fiji
1. Ezekiel Lindenmuth
2. Luteru Tolai
3. Sosefo ‘Apikotoa
4. Michael Curry
5. Mike McKee
6. Penitoa Finau
7. Alamanda Motuga
8. Solomone Funaki (c)
9. Jonathan Taumateine
10. Christian Lealiifano
11. Timoci Tavatavanawai
12. Henry Taefu
13. Levi Aumua
14. Tima Fainga’anuku
15. William Havili
16. Samiuela Moli
17. Abraham Pole
18. Chris Apoua
19. Mahonri Ngakuru
20. Miracle Faiilagi
21. Ereatara Enari
22. Fine Inisi
23. Jonah Mau’u