Monday , September 25 2023

Coach’s heartwarming triumph after tragic week

The Fijian Drua ended a week marred by personal loss with a collective triumph as they beat the Queensland Reds to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in only their second season in Super Rugby Pacific.

The father of Australian coach Mick Byrne, a former AFL player, died in the week before the match and the Drua players set out on Saturday not only to make history but to provide Byrne with some small consolation.

Under Byrne the Drua have won six matches this season including victories over the Hurricanes and defending champion Crusaders.

Watch the 2023 Super Rugby Pacific finals on the home of rugby, Stan Sport. All matches streaming ad free, live and on demand

They have formed close bonds, not only among the players and coaching staff, but also with their fans.

An official count of the crowd at Suva’s National Stadium probably wasn’t possible.

It seemed every vantage point was filled and fans spilled onto the grass in front of the bleachers.

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The stadium rocked throughout the match with the jubilant dancing of the Drua fans as each try was scored and as the score mounted against the Reds.

When the full time whistle sounded the venerable stadium rocked on its foundations as the crowd swayed to Tina Turner’s Simply The Best.

But in the moment of celebration, Byrne’s loss was not overlooked.

Drua captain Meli Derenalagi said the players and fans were “not forgetting our coach, coach Mick.”

“He’s going through a hard obstacle in his life, the passing away of his father. The game we played today we dedicate to him to touch his heart and give him some happiness.”

Byrne was aware of the love and support surrounding him.

“When you have a program that’s built around faith and family, you certainly realise what it means to people when something happens to you,” he said.

“My family’s been awesome. Dad was a great mentor and I’m really pleased we were able to put a performance in after the week we had. It’s a pretty special moment this one. We’ve come from a long way back. It’s a great night for us.”

The Drua now will play the Crusaders in a quarter-final on Saturday.

Sharp Crusaders cut through Hurricanes

The Crusaders finished the regular season in second place with 10 wins and four losses.

But they seem to be misfiring as they head into the playoffs, a point emphasised by their 27-26 loss to the Hurricanes at the weekend.

They led the Hurricanes 19-3 nearing halftime then conceded four tries to trail 27-19 before mitigating the defeat with a try after the full time siren.

Sparks fly between fiery hookers

Their attack appeared to be misfiring and their play mostly was scrappy and spoiling.

In other quarter-finals, the Blues will play the NSW Waratahs, the top-ranked Chiefs will play the Reds and the ACT Brumbies will play the Hurricanes.

The Waratahs come into the playoffs on a low after losing to Moana Pasifika in their last regular season match.

Nawaqanitawase gets the bounce for Tahs

Moana Pasifika’s win allowed it to avoid a winless season — it had lost its previous 13 matches — and capped and an outstanding weekend for Pacific teams.

The Waratahs on the other hand were unable to mark the final home match of Wallabies captain Michael Hooper with a win.

“It was bad on all fronts,” Waratahs coach Darren Coleman said.

Waratahs legend farewells Sydney

“You’ve got that yucky feeling in the bottom of your stomach that you didn’t perform there how you wanted.

“It was bad for Hoops to finish like that. It was bad for momentum into playoffs that we played so badly.”

The weekend round was cruel for two teams – the Highlanders who were pushed out of the playoffs when the Drua won and the Western Force who also were denied a quarter-final when they lost to the Chiefs.

Electric Chiefs punish the Force

The Chiefs head into the playoffs as favorites with a 13-1 regular season record.


Friday 5.35pm AEST: Blues (3) vs Waratahs (6) in Auckland

Saturday 2.35pm AEST: Chiefs (1) vs Reds (8) in Hamilton

Saturday 5.05pm AEST: Crusaders (2) vs Drua (7) in Christchurch

Saturday 7.35pm AEST: Brumbies (4) vs Hurricanes (5) in Canberra

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