The Fijian Drua have made a huge statement to the rest of the competition, winning their first game on home soil, 31-14, on an historic day for the NRC.
In front of a huge crowd at Lawaqa Park, Sigatoka enjoyed a dominant second half from the home side, with their five tries to two bonus-point win shooting the Drua to the top of the NRC table.
Two converted tries in five minutes straight after half-time blew what had been a close game wide open, with fullback Apisalome Waqatabu and scrumhalf Frank Lomani crossing.
Waqatabu got a lovely bounce following a kick though, while Lomani finished off a passage that started back near the Drua’s 22, giving the no.9 a double.
Replacement flanker Visikali Mudu took an intercept, just as it looked as though the Drua would concede a try in the 52nd minute.
Mudu was run down with the line in sight, and the Eagles defence scrambled well enough to disarm the Fijian pick and drive and hold them up over the line.
NSW Country hit back on the hour with a penalty try, after Andrew Kellaway was tackled in the air while grounding the ball in the corner, earning his opposite number Eroni Sau a yellow card.
But the Fijians hit straight back, quickly getting deep in the Eagles’ 22, and a patient pick and drive being rewarded with winger Apete Daveta finding easy space to score in the corner.
Waqatabu’s outstanding fading conversion from the sideline pushed the score out to 31-14.
The Eagles were then held up, with replacement hooker Connal McInerney held up after a strong rolling maul had rumbled over the line, and only moments later bombed another try, when Kellaway lost control of the ball short of the line as he came to ground.
Late handling errors cruelled any chance of a last NSW Country comeback, as the home side tightened the screws with some impressive defence to close out the game.
The Drua suffered a huge blow in the opening moments of the game, with superstar flyhalf Peceli Nacebe – who scored 20 points on his own last weekend in Melbourne - being stretchered off with an ankle injury in just the fourth minute.
NSW Country asked all the early questions in the fast-paced start, but lost an attacking lineout in the Fijian 22, only to see the home side break out and go the length of the field, Lomani with the first points of the game.
Breakdown issues plagued the Eagles in the first quarter of the game, but the heat and the humidity in Sigatoka made ball-handling difficult for both sides.
The Eagles did make the most of their next attacking entry, building up the phases and playing with width, with outside centre Seb Wileman crossing over out wide in the 20th minute, Tayler Adams’ conversion allowing NSW Country to take the lead.
The Drua reclaimed the lead shortly after, however, when a wonderful cutout pass from inside centre Eroni Vasiteri putting winger Eroni Sau over in the left corner.
Country finished the half strongly, winning scrum ascendency along the way, but a missed penalty attempt from Adams sent them into half-time trailing 10-7. It would prove to be as close as the Eagles would get.
Fijian Drua 31
Tries: Lomani 2, Sau, Waqatabu, Daveta
Cons: Waqatabu 3
Yellow cards: E. Sau (60’)
NSW Country Eagles 14
Tries: Wileman, Penalty
Cons: Adams 1