What they said… Greater Sydney Rams v Fijian Drua
FIJIAN DRUA 57 (Apete Daveta 2, Joeli Veitayaki Jr., John Stewart, Apisalome Waqatubu, Eroni Sau, Frank Lomani, Kitione Taliga tries; Apisalome Waqatubu 7 cons, pen) defeated GREATER SYDNEY RAMS 31 (Hugh Roach, Cam Bailey, Ben Cotton, Stu Dunbar, Dennis Pili-Gaitau tries; Jai Ayoub 3 cons) HT 24-21
Still smarting over their humbling at the hands of the Canberra Vikings last weekend, the Fijian Drua arrived at TG Millner Field in Sydney keen to get straight back on the winner’s rostrum and kickstart their run to the finals. Up against them was a Greater Sydney Rams side also keen to get back into the winning habit after losing their last run-out two weeks before to Melbourne Rising. Their cause wasn’t helped by the absence of several key players, most notably Waratahs Jed Holloway, Taqele Naiyaravoro and Mack Mason.
But as it turned out, the ‘replacements’ who stepped up off either the bench or the training paddock did a pretty good job, fighting fire with fire in an enthralling contest to stand level at 31-all with their swashbuckling visitors as the game entered the final quarter. It was at that point that the Drua went into overdrive and took the game out of the Rams reach with four unanswered tries, and served further warning of their genuine title credentials in the process. Behind the Ruck took in the sights and sounds of ‘Pasifika Day’ and grabbed the post-match thoughts of both head coaches, Senirusi Seruvakula and John Manenti.
Senirusi Seruvakula (Fijian Drua head coach):
“It was really important to bounce back after last week. We had a whole week to prepare and we just wanted to get a win today and take it back home. These boys are not used to playing in cold weather but today really suited us here, and I’m very proud of the boys. We stuck to what we did for the first half, there was a lot of scramble in our game. But then we built up in the second half, and got the win with a bonus point.
“You could see that we had to bring a winger in to play number 12, and that was his first time playing there. There was an option to bring back Apete, who was playing on the wing, and we fixed our defence from there. In the second half we just talked about playing smart, and about fixing our exits from the red zone and the blocker accuracy for the kicks. And then when we kick, putting pressure onto them to force a mistake so we can have the ball. We want to play patient rugby and score points.
“We are very fortunate for Australian rugby to invite us into this competition. There is a big margin from club rugby to provincial rugby in Fiji, then up to the Warriors and now the NRC, and as I have been saying every week we are all still learning. We pick up a lot of positives from all of the games, and now the guys have the confidence and belief that we can make the top four or even the top two. Back home, we watch these guys playing Super Rugby and now we are playing against them and beating them. That has given us a lot of confidence.
“We just have to maintain our discipline – no sin bins, yellow card or red cards – and our defence has to be consistent, because these teams can attack from anywhere. Defensively, we’re learning a lot playing against these Australian teams. Back home, there’s always scramble defence and there’s a lot of stopping in the game. But now these guys understand that they can play 15 or 20 phases and that’s a lot of learning for them. We need more structure, especially against Super Rugby players.
“The bye gives us time to recover from the timeframe of travelling. Last week we arrived in Canberra and it was cold, and then we come to Sydney and the weather is still cold for us! For these guys, it is completely different to how they play back home, it is a whole new experience. Some of them had never flown before, so when we touched down at the airport some of them started screaming and holding each other. All the other people on the plane were turning around and looking at us because they thought something was happening. It was funny!
“For a lot of these guys it is their first time on a plane, their first time in Australia – everything is a first time. But they are loving it, and they are fighting for their position to be in the team, because we have some players back home who are training and waiting for an injury, or for something to crop up so they can get back into the team.
“It’s going to be massive when we get home. All the people are following this team and we have a responsibility, and that sometimes gives us pressures as a coach. But at the same time, we just want to play how we normally play as Fijians. We are bringing back that style, that open rugby, and that’s why we have a lot of supporters and everything in the media is about us.
“But our emphasis to the boys is that we just have to come back down to earth again so we are not carried away, and we can get ready for next week and then the last two games. It is an advantage for us to have the bye week next week and then play Queensland Country in one of the hottest places in Fiji, in Lautoka. Then the last home game is in the capital city of Suva and it’s important that we win these two games to give us a foundation for the semis.
“It was really important to get back into the top two, that was our objective today. From the start we wanted to be in the top four, but now we want to be in the top two, even though we know we won’t get a home semi-final. That’s the ruling from the ARU. It doesn’t matter if we finish one or two, we won’t be getting a home semi-final. But we get to decide where we play it in Australia, maybe Ballymore. Finishing in the top two will also mean we don’t have to play the Vikings in Canberra again in the cold!”
John Manenti (Greater Sydney Rams head coach):
“I think the scoreboard probably wasn’t a fair indication of the game but in saying that, we played to their strengths more than we needed to. In the first half we played into a strong breeze and we kicked to them and gave them a lot of ball. In the second half, we failed to put the ball in the grandstands and gave them a chance to play quickly off lineouts, so our execution let us down there. With 20 minutes to go it was 31-all, and I think around that time we had a lineout 20-30 metres out, which they managed to turn over and they end up going 80 metres not long after that and scoring.
“We gifted them a lot of tries. First half they scored three and we gave them two of them. One was a stupid penalty where they tapped and went and the other one was a bad pass, we knocked it on and straight into their hands. So at the end of the day, you’ve got to point the finger at yourselves and say that if the execution was 10 percent better, you probably win the game. Turning around at half-time having scored just before and just after we were doing things right, and our message was ‘Why are we trying to play like them – it’s not our game’. Every time we tried to play like them they hurt us and they scored tries off turnovers, and we’d spoken about being boring, about recycling and building pressure, and when we did that well, we scored 31 points against them. But the facts are that when you play these guys you just can’t turn the ball over, and that hurt us.
“I thought there were some decent performers out there today. Dennis [Pili-Gaitau] played well; Albert [Tuisue] tried his heart out against his countrymen; David Hickey worked really hard, he was tough and uncompromising, which is where we want to be, and I think the two wingers – Ben Cotton and Stuey Dunbar – did a great job. They did really well and I couldn’t ask for more from them. From that point of view I’m happy, and I’m happy for them that they took their chances. We need to be not too hard on ourselves in some aspects and know that we weren’t a million miles away.
“Even when we were down by 12, there was still 10 minutes to go. And at that point, if we grind out a try, then maybe then we have to throw it around to go for another. But we threw it around earlier than we needed to and what did they do? Intercepted it and went and scored. They’re fit, they’re lean and once they are on the front foot, they’re hard to stop. Their first try, I think we must have made 20-30 tackles non-stop – bang-bang-bang – we never missed one. But they just kept offloading, or you’d get them to ground and they’d hit the guy off the deck, so fair play to them. If you were a neutral coming out here today you’d have said it was a pretty good day I’d say. Defence obviously wasn’t a dominant feature but it was entertaining.
“We know we’ve got bodies coming back next week so that will help. But we’re probably playing a better team in Queensland Country than what we played today in many aspects. Without analysing them yet, they’re probably the best team I’ve seen so far. On their day they’re very good and have been the most consistent side, so we’ve got a great challenge ahead. We’ve got three teams left to play, all ahead of us on the ladder. The good thing about that is that we’re playing teams we’re chasing, so we have the chance to make places up on them if we do well. The bad part of that is that if we don’t, we could get beaten and beaten well.”