It is the game many Super Rugby fans have been waiting for. The two newcomers to the competition, Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua, lock horns for the first time.
The hard hitting Moana Pasifika and the free running Drua game is set to take place at Sydney’s CommBank Stadium on Saturday.
The tale of the tape is the same for both teams – they have each won just one game but have had near misses.
The Drua are just one point ahead of bottom placed Moana Pasifika, and this match may eventually decide who the wooden spoon holders are this year.
The Moana Pasifika have more experience in their side with captain Sekope Kepu, Christian Leali’ifano and a few other campaigners who have previously been part of Super Rugby before.
The Drua’s ability to score from anywhere on the field is known very well.
It will also be interesting as Moana Pasifika winger Timoci Tavatavanawai faces his former Fiji Under 20 teammates and former boarding school roommate, Meli Derenalagi.
“It’s going to be cool playing against the Drua boys, they’re like my brothers. I played with half of the team when I was younger. I’ve never played against them so it’s going to be interesting,” said Tavatavanawai.
“My whole family back home in Fiji will be watching. They support Moana Pasifika and the Drua but they will be backing the Moana boys and I on Saturday.”
Head coach Aaron Mauger has made several changes to his side who were defeated 26-20 by the Waratahs.
The front row remains consistent with Moana Pasifika’s top try-scorer Abraham Pole at loosehead prop, Ray Niuia at hooker and captain Sekope Kepu will play at tighthead.
Hard-working and versatile loose forward Michael Curry shifts into the locking position and Alex McRobbie is elevated from the bench to the starting lineup.
Sione Tu’ipulotu rejoins the match day 23 and is accompanied by Solomone Funaki and Henry Stowers in the loosies.
Ereatara Enari will feed the ball to Lincoln McClutchie, who earns his first start since round 5. Head Coach Aaron Mauger has been impressed with McClutchie in his debut season.
“Christian has been in outstanding form but unfortunately hasn’t been able to train this week due to illness. We trust Lincoln to do the job so we have made an early call in the best interests of both Lincoln and the teams preparation,” said Mauger.
“Lincoln is a quality rugby player who has made big improvements during our campaign, we’re excited for him that he gets the opportunity to start and showcase his abilities from the first minute this week.”
A new look midfield combination will also be revealed on Saturday when Danny Toala pairs with block-busting centre, Solomone Kata. Both missed last week’s match due to illness.
Timoci Tavatavanawai and Tima Fainga’anuku have cemented their spots on the wing and will be joined by William Havili at fullback.
There is plenty of firepower to come from the bench with the experienced Jack Lam and Christian Leali’ifano to provide impact.
The Drua coach Mick Byrne announced a strong team as well. Byrne said the match will show what Super Rugby Pacific is all about.
He said the Drua players were excited and are hoping for a good outcome.
“The two teams who have turned the competition from Super Rugby to Super Rugby Pacific go on show against each other and our boys are really excited about the opportunity. No doubt Moana are excited as well,” he said.
Drua hooker Mesulame Dolokoto will get to start the game from the flanker’s berth.
A few notable names have made their way back into the matchday 23 this week for the clash, including season captain Nemani Nagusa who will add impact off the bench.
Sekope Kepu (C)
Meli Derenalagi (C)
Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta
Tevita Ikanivere Uluilakepa