The Fijian Drua saved their best performance for last in a pulsating round 15 Super Rugby Pacific match against New Zealand franchise the Chiefs of Waikato, despite bowing out 34-35 at a jam packed Churchill Park in Lautoka on Saturday.
It was a carnival like atmosphere at the park in a match won by the visitors that outscored the hosts five tries to four, and clinched a bonus point victory to confirm their home quarterfinal in Hamilton.
The final match of a regular season for the Drua’s maiden voyage in a 12-team revamped competition was played in Fiji’s second city Lautoka, and every inch of the ground was filled.
Spectators had even occupied every tree and other vantage point overlooking the ground to witness one of the most compelling matches of the 2022 Super Rugby Pacific season.
The hosts had launched an extraordinary comeback and scored three scintillating tries in the last ten minutes to make the match a cliff-hanger.
The visitors had scored three tries in the first half to prop Angus Ta’avao, five-eighth Bryn Gatland and Fiji-born winger Emoni Narawa to hand the Chiefs a comfortable 21-7 advantage at the break; blockbusting centre for the Drua Apisalome Vota had touched down for their solitary try.
The Chiefs went further ahead with a second-try to Narawa and looked to have the game under control after being awarded a penalty try in the 66th minute, taking a 22-point lead in the final quarter with scores at 35-13.
The Drua responded in a magnificent counter-attacking try to Kalaveti Ravouvou in the 70th minute and added another to Vota five minutes later; replacement prop Timoci Sauvoli’s touchdown in the 79th minute had the stadium erupting, and with the successful conversion by flyhalf Teti Tela the Chief’s lead was cut to a single point.
Replacement prop for the Drua Tevita Ikanivere was bundled out of play with the ball in the 82nd minute and the match ended before they could make their rally a winning one.
Two-try hero Vota was voted the home and living player of the match and paid tribute to the hordes of fans that had turned up to witness the match.
“I thank the boys for giving a great effort against the Chiefs,” he said.
“I want to thank the fans of both the teams, who turned up today. We’re looking forward to next year’s competition.”
A relieved Chiefs captain Brad Webber said they were happy to get away with the win.
“Jeez; I thought we’d played our one and only “get out of jail” match against the Rebels a couple of weeks ago but it turns out that we’ve got two,” he said.
“Hats off to the Drua; their last 10-15 minutes were unbelievable.
“I haven’t seen tries scored like that in my whole career.
“It’s such a relief more than anything and we’re so lucky to get out of that one with a victory.”
The Fijian Drua end their season with 12 points on the ladder.