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Deja vu for Tane as Drua deliver another heart-breaker to under fire Coleman

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23rd March, 2024
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Two weeks after missing a late chance to beat the Highlanders, Tane Edmed muffed his lines once again as the Tahs fell to a heartbreaking first-ever loss to Fijian Drua in golden point in Lautoka.

Suffocating heat, then pouring rain, a brutal burst of brilliance from a player deemed not up to NRL standards, and a brave Waratahs comeback marked the Drua’s 39-36 win.

The game was won in the 88th minute when Rob Valetini’s brother Kemu sent over a field goal. A few minutes earlier Edmed was set up in good position but shanked a wobbly kick low into the upright.

“Proud of the effort, it was a slog out here today and it was a physical game with ebbs and flows,” said Waratahs skipper Jake Gordon. “They had momentum in that first half, we came out in the second half and we won the confrontational battle up front and started to play some good footy off there. Like the last two or three weeks, the crucial parts of the game we let it slip.”

At the end of it Darren Coleman’s Waratahs have lost a fourth game from five this season, leaving their campaign, and the future of the coach twisting in the wind.

It’s no shame to go to Fiji and be overwhelmed – the conditions make it tough for FIFO footy players against players used to the sapping humidity – but there was no reason for the Tahs to be caught completely cold.

What was stunning was the Tahs incredible turnaround after going to the sheds behind 16 points at halftime to force golden point.

The Tahs made it so hard for themselves in an ill disciplined first half.

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Frank Lomani scored one of the easiest lineout tries you’ll see, sneaking over as the Tahs forwards were still trying to organise themselves, while centre Iosefo Masi scored a first half hat-trick – the first by anyone for the Drua – giving Izzy Perese in particular an absolute bath.

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Masi, an Olympic Games gold medallist, had a short stint at Townsville Cowboys but they cut him loose before he played an NRL game.

He’s yet to play a Test for the Flying Fijians but that can’t be far off – he now has five tries in two weeks and was unstoppable at times.

Questions over Coleman’s future have been around since the start of the season – mostly driven by unnamed sources speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald. He was reported to have four weeks to prove himself ahead of a NSW board meeting that would determine if he deserves a contract extension. That’s now five weeks and there were questions about his future raised again midweek, with the meeting pending.

The Tahs had lost their past two by narrow margins and but for a Edmed missed kick against the Highlanders and some poor execution a week ago against the Blues, they could well be sitting at 3-2 rather than 1-4. But footy is a results business, and this was another one that went against them.

The Tahs started well in 30 degree temperature and high humidity and went to an early 10-0.

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Hooker Mahe Vailanu crossed off a clever lineout play. As the Drua expected the visitors to set up a rolling maul, Jed Holloway, Ned Hanigan and Charlie Gamble traded quick passes before sending their No.2 over.

Edmed added the conversion from out wide and another penalty in front before Fiji, urged on by the incessant noise of vuvuzelas, warmed to the task.

Their opening try owed plenty to the Tahs’ indiscipline. The hosts had an option for an easy three points but chose to tap and run. They turned it over on the first phase and the Tahs tried to pass and run it out from their own in goal. Perese had a chance for a clearing kick but passed it up and the ball was shunted out over the sideline giving the Drua a lineout in a good position.

From the set piece, Masi stepped outside a grasping Perese and inside Mark Nawaqanitawase to cross for his first.

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The second came from another error, this time by young fullback Max Jorgensen, who spilled a high kick under little pressure. Two minutes later the Fijians crossed as the Tahs fell asleep and failed to track Lomani’s run at the line out.

That gave the hosts a lead they never surrendered, although Jake Gordon twice passed up easy kicks for three only to watch his pack repelled from the set piece.

Masi grabbed his second, finishing off an excellent piece of backline play. Jorgensen hardly covered himself in glory – he was slow to close the space on the marauding Drua centre and then his shoulder high tackle attempt seemed more like a gesture of concession than real commitment.

Masi added a third when he took a simple pass from Masi and just punched right through Perese. The Tahs centre announced this week he was leaving the club at the end of the season, and maybe he was preoccupied in what was a dismal first half from the Wallaby.

His Test teammate Nawaqanitawase, with his Fijian father in the stands, was low key and only noticed when he was yellow carded a mniute before the break for a deliberate knockdown.

The mood was ectastic in the stands at halftime and the Tahs looked cooked, down 26-10. Driving rain during the break added even more resistance to the heavy field but the visitors turned the match on its head dramatically.

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With Nawaqanitawase still in the bin, Joey Walton ran direct off a scrum and Perese popped a pass up for Charlie Gamble to begin the comeback. Fiji hooker Tevita Ikanivere restored the advantage but then Walton got a try of his own, followed by two tries in two minutes from Vailanua and Lachie Swinton.

After looking down and out the Tahs were level heading into the final 15 minutes.

The Tahs had their chances to grab the win in normal time, but Jorgensen knocked on with the Drua on the rack. A second opportunity was also let drift away, before the Drua also threatened on the break as the siren sounded.

But after 80 minutes in oppressive conditions, with five tries apiece, the teams faced off for 10 more minutes.

Within two minutes the Fijians were down to 14 as referee James Doleman yellow carded Peni Matawalu for slapping a Tahs player three times on the head in a maul, leaving the hosts without their reserve scrum half for the rest of the game.

A poor Drua lineout gave the Tahs a perfect chance to attack and they made excellent progress down the left before setting Edmed for a drop goal attempt. He drilled his kick low and into the post – a shaky strike when he needed composure.

Instead the Drua held theirs and worked it up field. With advantage on their side Valetini nailed his snapped attempt.

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