The Fijian Drua have finished the regular season with a second consecutive loss on home soil, going down 36-29 in a thriller at the National Stadium in Suva.
The Drua took a losing bonus point from the match, which means they will qualify for the NRC finals in third place on the competition table.
Their point also means the Canberra Vikings are guaranteed a home semi-final, and that the Perth Spirit now only need a bonus point win over Queensland Country tomorrow to leapfrog NSW Country into fourth spot.
Greasy conditions with a 6.30pm kick-off in Suva made handling difficult from the outset, and both sides struggled to hold onto the ball as game remained scoreless beyond the 30-minute mark.
The Rays began mounting the phases late in the half, and were beginning to find space. Pauli Balekana was bundled into touch just when he looked like scoring, and soon after, the Rays were finding space again, with Apolosi Latunipulu scoring in the corner, the first points of the match coming in the 36th minute.
Sydney was right back on attack from the restart, though, and from a lineout from close range, pick and drove toward the posts, before a lovely Harry Nucifora pass put Irae Simone over next to the posts. Bryce Hegarty’s conversion gave the Rays a 12-0 lead at half-time.
After the break, the Rays just resume where they left off, winning another string of penalties from which the Drua were frankly lucky not to lose a player.
The Rays set a nice lineout drive in the 44th minute, and hooker and captain Damien Fitzpatrick piloted the maul perfectly to score from eight metres out. Hegarty wasn’t able to convert from out wide, making the score 17-0 to the visitors.
Fitzpatrick was in again five minutes later, after a lovely build up that included some superb hands among the forwards, to extend the Rays out to a 22-0 lead.
Fiji did lose a player in the 52nd minute, with centre Eroni Sau yellow carded for a high tackle on Kepu Lokotui, and with the numerical advantage, the Rays were in again with Simone finishing off Hegarty’s grubber kick through. Hegarty’s conversion made it 29-0.
The Drua were finally heeding the discipline message after repeated warnings, and actually started playing some rugby just as it looked like the game was getting away from them.
No.8 Peni Raidre finished off a sixty-metre movement to score their first try, and replacement scrumhalf Seru Cavuilati followed a few minutes later. Skipper John Stewart couldn’t convert either try, with the Rays remaining in front 29-10 with twenty minutes to play.
Cavuilati was over again in the 69th minute, and when flyhalf Kini Douglas scored and converted in the 73rd minute, suddenly there was just a converted try in it.
Rays scrumhalf Nick Duffy scored under the posts from close range, Sam Lane’s conversion putting the score out to 36-22, but the Drua hit straight back through Douglas’ second to put themselves back in bonus point range, with the final score 36-29.
Fijian Drua 29
Tries: Cavuilati 2, Douglas 2, Raidre,
Cons: Douglas 2
Yellow Cards E. Sau (52’)
Sydney Rays 36
Tries: Simone 2, Fitzpatrick 2, Latunipulu, Duffy
Cons: Hegarty 2, Lane 1