Super Rugby Pacific - History Is Made In Suva As Drua Down Crusaders

Super Rugby Pacific - History Is Made In Suva As Drua Down Crusaders

Super Rugby Pacific 2023 Round three recap - Fijian Drua defeat 11-time champions Crusaders, Brumbies beat Reds and Chiefs look to be best in New Zealand.

Mar 11, 2023
Super Rugby Pacific - History Is Made In Suva As Drua Down Crusaders

Round three of the 2023 Super Rugby season saw a significant piece of history being made as the Fijian Drua downed the 11-time champion Crusaders in Suva. 

Elsewhere several title contenders flexed their muscles whilst a few others slipped off the pace. 

Here are five of the biggest headlines from this weekend's action. 

Belligerent Brumbies Lead The Australian Charge 

Historically Australia's strongest Super Rugby franchise once again confirmed their status as title contenders with a hard-fought 23 – 17 win over rivals the Queensland Reds. 

Stephen Larkham's side displayed all of the hallmarks of a classic Brumbies side in round three. Simply impenetrable defensively for much of the contest, the intense line speed and ferociousness at the breakdown kept the Reds scoreless throughout the first half. 

Such was their dominance that Reds head coach Brad Thorn decided to switch his flyhalves at halftime as the impressive youngster Thomas Lynagh made way for veteran James O'Connor. The 32-year-old O'Connor sparks a Reds revival (more on that later), yet the Brumbies held firm when it counted. 

In attack, the pace of their backline was a sight to behold. Fullback Tom Wright and winger Andy Muirhead were a handful in the wide channels as they both made several devastating runs around the Reds edge defence. 

Marshalling the team was scrumhalf Nic White, who looks to be playing some of his best Rugby at 32-years-old. Having been at the game's top level for over a decade, White's presence alleviates much of the pressure on his young halfback partner Noah Lolesio. 

Sitting pretty with three wins from the opening three rounds, the Brumbies again look like Australia's best chance at breaking their super rugby drought. 

Wallabies Coming On Strong In World Cup Year

World Cup years bring an air of expectation amongst all the top tier one nations in World Rugby. 

On the back of a number of lean years, the Wallabies have a lot of work to do to match the success of the 1991 and 1999 World Cup-winning teams. 

Having last appeared in the final in 2015, the Wallabies enter this year's tournament with a squad far less experienced yet have perhaps as strong a chance as they did back then.

Headlining this crop of young stars is Reds fullback Jordan Petaia who looks to have found his best position in the number fifteen shirt. 

Long heralded as the next big thing in Australian Rugby, the 22-year-old is an impressive physical specimen with all of the skills and rugby IQ to be one of the best players in the World. His potential partnership with presumed starters Mark Nawaqanitawase and Marika Korobiete could be the most dynamic back three at the World Cup. 

Petaia is, of course, just one of a host of young stars, such as Lolesio, Nawaqanitawase, Tate McDermot, Hunter Paisami and Len Ikitau, who all have bright futures in the green and gold. 

Australia's more experienced players could be invaluable in France for all the young talent coming through. One such player is James O'Connor, who appears to have fully embraced his role as an elder statesman in the Reds squad this season. 

Starting round three on the bench, O'Connor's entrance into what looked like a dire outing against the Brumbies highlighted his class. 

Injecting pace, a willingness to attack the line, and physicality in attack and defence. O'Connor sent a message to new Wallabies coach Eddie Jones that he has more than enough left in the tank for another crack at the World Cup. 

Forming a possible halfback pairing with O'Connor would be Nic White, who, as mentioned above, is playing some sublime rugby this season. Should this be the combination, Jones could have two experienced generals directing a perfect storm of power and pace as one of the surprise packages in World Rugby. 

Taking into account the World Cup draw, which will see the Australians avoid the top four teams in the World until at least the semi-final stage. 

Drawn in Pool C alongside a now somewhat defunct Welsh side, Fiji, Georgia and Portugal, the Wallabies will fancy their chances at topping the pool. From here, they will face any one of Argentina, England or Japan, all sides they again would believe they could beat. 

Get to the semi-final, and the World is their oyster as a world cup winner's medal will be just two matches away. 

Worrying Signs For Defending Champions 

As the Australians ascend, the defending champion Canterbury Crusaders descend and find themselves in freefall. 

Well and genuinely thumped in round one by the Chiefs, Scott Robertson's side rebounded comfortably to beat a struggling Highlanders team. 

Yet this victory would now appear to be more a papering over the issues facing the defending champions as they imploded in their round three clashes with the Fijian Drua. 

Sitting in a commanding position after the first half, the Crusaders fell victim to Fijian Rugby at its finest as the Drua tore them to shreds. 

Admittedly the Crusaders regained the lead with just seconds left in the contest, only to squander it all by conceding a penalty as time expired. 

Already nine points behind the table-topping Chiefs, alarm bells will be ringing in Christchurch as this side looks like a shadow of its former self. 

Of course, it is early in the season, and this is still the team that has won the past six Super Rugby titles. A change in fortunes would not be a shock, but the margin for error is now razor-thin. 

Magnificent Drua Shine in Suva 

Having listed the Crusaders' concerns above, it is worth noting just how magnificent the Drua were at times on Saturday. 

Unbridled by the pressure of playing in front of their home crowd, the Fijians scored some of the best tries one could ever wish to see. In fact, their home crowd's intense energy appeared to truly spur them on to a level that, till today, they had not shown. 

In what was an incredible display of Fijian rugby passion, the fans who packed out Churchill Park in Suva highlighted once again why it was a masterstroke to take professional Rugby to Fiji. 

Having produced a significantly disproportionate number of world-class rugby players over the years, the south pacific islands deserve to be at the top table. 

Now sitting with two wins from three, should they continue this form, the potential of a play-off match being hosted in Fiji becomes very real. 

Chiefs, The Class Of The Kiwis 

Coming into this season somewhat under the radar, given the fanfare surrounding the Crusaders and Blues. The Chiefs appear to be at a level unseen since their title-winning sides of 2012 and 2013. 

Directing proceedings with the precision of a masterful conductor, flyhalf Damian McKenzie has shown All Blacks fans what they missed during his injury-enforced absence. 

Simply put, the diminutive playmaker is world-class and looks to be the best-performing New Zealand flyhalf at the time of writing. 

This is a significant development for the All Blacks, who have rotated between Richie Mo'unga and Beauden Barrett over the past seasons. 

Like Barrett, McKenzie is exceptionally versatile and would offer yet another playmaking weapon for the All Blacks as the international season comes into focus. 

Away from McKenzie, experienced All Black secondrow Brodie Retallick looks to be finding his form, as does captain Sam Cane who looks to have been freed by some of the mountainous pressure he was under in 2022. 

Finally, fullback Shaun Stevenson could be a bolter for the All Blacks World Cup squad as he picks up where he left for the Maori All Blacks last year.  Electric with the ball in hand, Stevenson is a typical New Zealand fullback, with his elusive running style routinely proving to be a nightmare for opposition defences.

Written by Philip Bendon