The Horan-Little Shield is on its way to the Pacific Islands for the first time, after the Fijian Drua claimed the NRC challenge trophy with a comprehensive 57-31 win over the Greater Sydney Rams.
The Drua’s eight-tries-to-five bonus point win at TG Millner Oval ensures they will stay in the lead pack on the NRC table, and reignites their campaign after a big loss in Canberra last week.
Both sides asked plenty of early questions of each other, but let themselves down with their execution.
When the Drua did notch the first points of the game, it was special.
A movement that had its origins back near the Fijian 22 saw winger Apete Daveta break through, and after another couple of passes, it was the big loosehead prop, Joeli Veitayaki Jnr crossing next to the posts.
Fullback Apisalome Waqatabu converted, and added a penalty goal soon after, for the Drua to take an early 10-0 lead.
It was short lived, however, with the Rams hitting the front via some great work from stand-in skipper Hugh Roach close to the line, and then fullback Cam Bailey’s leg drive was too much for the three Drua defenders still attached.
Jai Ayoub converted both tries to lead 14-10.
But the Drua would have the next word, with captain John Stewart and Daveta both swooping on loose ball to run tries in from near halfway.
Waqatabu’s dual conversions had them back in front 24-14, as they looked to close out the half.
They couldn’t quite do that, as consecutive penalties and some patient build up from the Rams sent Ben Cotton over in the corner, while Ayoub’s superb sideline conversion narrowed the Drua’s lead at halftime to 24-21.
The Rams regained the lead just after the break when left winger Stuart Dunbar crossed in the opposite corner, but the Drua hit back in the 52nd minute through Daveta.
Stewart carried strongly and got a nice offload away, and that was repeated before the ball found Daveta, scoring his second for the match, under the posts. Waqatabu’s conversion pushed the Drua back out to a 31-26 lead.
Denis Pili-Gaitau scored a determined try for the Rams, beating four defenders on the way, but the Drua hit straight back, with a wonderful Stewart break in midfield finding Waqatabu in support to score. He converted his own try, too, with the Drua maintaining the seven-point lead heading into the last quarter of the match.
Late tries to centre Eroni Sau and replacement scrumhalf Frank Lomani took the Fijian Drua to a new record score for the NRC, and when Waqatabu converted Kitione Taliga’s 75th-minute try, the fullback’s 22 points also set a new record for the visitors.
With the bye next week in round seven, the Fijian Drua’s first defence of the Horan-Little Shield will come in round eight, when they host Queensland Country in Lautoka.
Greater Sydney Rams 31
Tries: Roach, Bailey, Cotton, Dunbar, Pili-Gaitau
Cons: Ayoub 3
Fijian Drua 57
Tries: Daveta 2, Veitayaki Jnr, Stewart, Waqatabu, Sau, Lomani, Taliga
Cons: Waqatabu 7