NRC: Drua's title defence alive after dramatic win over Queensland Country

NRC
by Emma Greenwood

The Fijian Drua will get the chance to defend their NRC title after an incredible end to their sudden-death clash against Queensland Country.

The semi-final equation was simple for both teams: win and you're in, lose and your NRC season is over.

And it looked to be the Drua who would have the early off-season after Country held a lead in the final minute and the referee awarding the visitors a penalty.

In a tight second half in Sigatoka, a penalty try to Country was the only score in the second term until all hell broke loose in the final minutes.

 

Up 24-21, Country opted to trust their set piece rather than take a shot at goal when awarded a penalty with only about a minute on the clock.

But they lost possession, with the desperate Drua pushing downfield before Jiuta Wainiqolo crossed in the 80th minute to give his side the lead.

Country had one final chance and earnt a penalty, with Rohan Saifoloi getting the chance to ice the game after the siren and hand Country a semi-final spot.

But the reliable kicker pushed his attempt across the face of goal, leaving the Drua in the top four and in the position to defend their title.

In a physical encounter that saw Fijian Peni Matawalu leave the field following a head clash with Liam Wright, before Queensland had Jock Campbell stretchered from the field and Hamish Stewart helped from the ground, Country again displayed the hot-and-cold form that has hindered their 2019 campaign.

Joey Fittock on the burst for Queensland Country. Photo: QRU Media/Brendan Hertel

Too often they have faded in and out of games and against the most potent attack in the competition, they were made to pay.

After an opening arm wrestle, Queensland Country showed great patience to build phases before Harry Wilson scored, selling Peni Matawalu a massive dummy to spook the defence and stroll over in the right corner.

The Drua have come up with some of the most dazzling moments of the season but it was a sloppy error that led to Country's next try after Wainiqolo fumbled a kick before flicking the ball back in an attempt to keep it in the field of play.

He did not account for a flying Joey Fittock though, the winger racing through to get a foot to the ball and grubber ahead before winning the race to the line.

Leading 14-0 and with a penalty, Country opted to kick for the corner and put trust in their set piece rather than take the points on offer.

It turned out to be a poor choice, with the Queenslanders turning the ball over and eventually, conceding two tries to allow the Drua back into the match.

Johnny Dyer has been one of the most outstanding players for the Drua this season and he sparked the Fijians, winning a penalty in his own 22 before monstering the Country defence from a lineout win to charge over for the home side's first try.

A disciplined showing from Country had led to their early lead but they quickly abandoned that, with Jethro Felemi sent to the sin bin in the 25th minute for a lazy professional foul and Queensland soon down to 13 men when Harry Hockings was shown a card for a high tackle just minutes later.

The Drua made the most of it, with Levani Kurumudu taking a quick tap after a penalty was awarded and forcing his way over, with Enele Tikotani's conversion levelling the scores up.

When they got the option to have a penalty shot at goal in the 35th minute, Country happily took the opportunity, soaking up enough time for Felemi to be able to return to the ground after Rohan Saifoloi slotted the chance.

But just as they looked set to take a lead to the break, Fiji were in again, with fullback Apisolome Waqatabu touching down to give the home side an unlikely 21-17 lead at the break.

Queensland Country looked certain be the first to score in the second term after Tate McDermott took a quick tap and found Jock Campbell racing down the left flank.

But the flyer's stop-go, allowed Wainiqolo to come across in cover defence, forcing him into touch before he could plant the ball.

But it was a second tackle, by flanker Filimoni Camaitovu, that left Campbell prone on the ground, with the game stopped for several mintues before he was stretchered from the field in a neck brace.

Queensland was in for a penalty try minutes later, with the referee ruling Wainiqolo's high tackle on halfback Tate McDermott prevented a certain try.

It was the only score of the match until the final, frantic mintues, leaving the Drua facing a trip to either Canberra or Perth for a knockout clash next week.

RESULT

Fijian Drua 26

Tries: Dyer, Kurumudu, Waqatabu, Wainiqolo

Cons: Tikotani 3

Yellow card: Viriviri

Queensland Country 24

Tries: Wilson, Fittock, penalty try

Cons: Saifoloi 2

Pens: Saifoloi

Yellow card: Felemi 25', Hockings 29'