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The Roar


'Missing ingredient': Fiji pip Moana Pasifika in wild clash as Blues belt Highlanders in Super statement

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25th February, 2023
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As the Blues issued a statement to the competition by smashing the Highlanders in Dunedin, Tony Johnson described the moment that won the earlier game in Auckland as the “missing ingredient” to Super Rugby and, indeed, it was.

Despite not being in the lead until the final two minutes of the match, a stunning try in the 78th minute to Taniela Rakuro gave Fiji Drua a remarkable 36-34 victory over Moana Pasifika.

Offloads, miracle passes, keeping the ball alive and screaming fans; these were the moments that culminated in the Drua stealing a game against the fellow newbies of Super Rugby to get their season up and running from the outset.

“We’ve always said to our boys, it’s their second year, we just want them to trust themselves. They’re just waiting for the game to start, then they get into it. They’ll learn,” Drua coach and former Wallabies and All Blacks assistant Mick Byrne said.

“Super Rugby’s been Super Rugby for as long as I can think of and now it’s Super Rugby Pacific and we saw today why it’s Super Rugby Pacific, it’s awesome.”

Taniela Rakuro scored the match-winner for Fiji against Moana Pasifika. Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

And after being forced to predominately be on the road last year because of COVID-19, the fact the Drua will play half-a-dozen matches at home, including their opener against the Crusaders in a fortnight, the Drua could well be one of the surprise packets in 2023.


“We’re looking forward to getting our six games at home,” Byrne said.

“I know our crowd will be right behind us and the boys will have their family and friends, which they didn’t have last year, and it’s an exciting time for us those six games.

“We’ve got to get through next week [against the Waratahs] and then the Crusaders. When I first arrived in Fiji there were a lot more Crusaders jerseys than Drua jerseys, but now the Drua jerseys are out and it’s great.”

Neither side was technically great, but the desire to keep the ball alive, as well as some poor defence and even worse discipline, meant the match was an enthralling contest against two sides that are just starting out on their Super Rugby Pacific journeys.

Moana Pasifika head coach Aaron Mauger embraces former Wallabies playmaker Christian Leali’ifano after losing to Fiji Drua at Mt Smart Stadium. Photo: Hannah Peters/Getty Images

While the home side raced out to a 12-0 lead after 10 minutes after some poor exits from playmaker Teti Tela allowed their opponents plenty of field position, the Drua outscored Moana Pasifika six tries to five.

Moana Pasifika inside centre Danny Toala was one of the home side’s best, while winger Timoci Tavatavanawai proved almost impossible to stop.


Captain and hooker Tevita Ikanivere and young centre Iosefo Masi meanwhile were two of the Drua’s best.

Moana Pasifika coach Aaron Mauger lamented his side’s inability to put the Drua away in the first half.

“We’re really proud of how far our boys have come,” Mauger said.

“I thought we started really well and we probably could have put them away to be fair in that first half, but our discipline gave them a couple of opportunities to get back in the game and I thought our game-management was pretty poor in a couple of moments in that first half.

“We knew we couldn’t give them opportunities, we gave them opportunities and they were good enough to take them.”

Mark Telea was one of the Blues’ best during their massive win over the Highlanders in Dunedin. Photo Joe Allison/Getty Images

Meanwhile, the Blues ran riot over the Highlanders in Dunedin to make an early Super Rugby Pacific statement.


Last year’s runners-up picked up where they left off last year, as they spanked the Highlanders by running in eight tries to claim a 60-20 victory.

Four tries inside the opening half-hour put the wheels in motion for Dalton Papali’i’s side, as Mark Telea, Beauden Barrett, Caleb Clarke and Rieko Ioane crossed the line.

A yellow card to lock Cameron Suafoa helped the Highlanders start a mini comeback as Mitch Hunt scored.

The Highlanders narrowed the margin even further when Josh Timu crossed on the stroke of half-time, as the home side took advantage of another yellow card – this time to Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

But the Highlanders were shut out in the second half, as Barrett settled down proceedings with an early penalty before the Blues turned it on in the final 20 minutes.

Telea was one of the Blues’ best, as the flying winger, who made his debut for the All Blacks in 2022, started the season in stunning fashion.