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Fortunate Western Force edge Fijian Drua in thriller – Super Rugby Pacific


SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 19: Force celebrate their victory over Fiji during the round five Super Rugby Pacific match between the Fijian Drua and the Western Force at Leichhardt Oval on March 19, 2022 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Scott Gardiner/Getty Images)

The Western Force beat Fijian Drua 18-20 in a fascinating and dramatic Super Rugby Pacific encounter at Leichhardt Oval, Sydney.

Bayley Kuenzle kicked an 84th-minute penalty to break Fijian Drua’s hearts and win a memorable Super Rugby contest for the Western Force.

Fijian Drua looked to have secured another famous scalp as the match entered the final minutes.

However, a late penalty miss by Teti Tela allowed the Force time to mount a last-ditch attack with 30 seconds on the clock.

The men from Perth went through 24 phases in three minutes before winning a penalty for a high tackle.

Napolioni Bolaca dropped into the pocket but pushed his drop-kick wide. It did not matter because Kuenzle settled in his side’s favour.

Both Fijian Drua and the Western Force shared two tries apiece in an enthralling Super Rugby match in New South Wales.

But it was the boot of the 23-year-old Kuenzle that made the difference as the Western Australians claimed a narrow victory.

Jeremy Thrush and Fergus Lee-Warner scored for the Western Force.

Ian Prior added a penalty and two conversions (7 pts) from the tee, while Kuenzle’s lone shot at goal proved pivotal.

Vinaya Habosi and Frank Lomani dotted down for Fijian Drua, while Teti Tela kicked two penalties and one conversion (8 pts) for his side.

Kalaveti Ravouvou had a magnificent match, setting up both Habosi and Lomani’s tries.

The 23-year-old carried 15 times for 85 metres, beating three defenders with one linebreak with eight tackles to cap a top display in midfield.

The Western Force took a slender – and fortunate – two-point lead into the shed despite dominating the first half in Western Sydney

Thrush flopped over for his 11th Super Rugby try in 132 matches to open the scoring in the 19th minute.

Prior converted, but missed a penalty before Fijian Drua struck.

Tim Sampson’s men had dominated possession and territory at almost 70% and had entered the opposition’s 22 on several occasions for only a converted try.

Mick Byrne’s men struggled with their set-pieces. They lost four of eight lineouts and a scrum, while conceding numerous penalties at scrum time that kept them camped inside their half.

However, Byrne’s side managed to claw their way back into the game when Habosi halved the score with his second Super Rugby try, six minutes before halftime.

Habosi took Ravouvou’s double skip-pass before putting on his jet shoes to burn Byron Ralston and finish near the corner.

The try came from the first sustained attack (10 phases) by the Fijians. Tela converted.

Things were looking up for Drua, and they began to make life uncomfortable for the Australians.

Samuela Tawake barged through Manasa Mataele and Jake Strachan to level from close range after another sustained attack (15 phases), but the TMO chalked off the score because of a knock-on by Sorovakatini Tuifagalele in an earlier phase near the try line.

Ollie Callan was sent to the naughty step after several toting up penalties on the Force’s line after the TMO check.

Drua skipper Nemani Nagusa took the points to keep his team in the hunt as the hooter sounded.

A frenetic start to the second half sees both teams score inside five minutes as the game opened up

It was end-to-end for much of the second stanza, especially the third quarter where 17 points were scored in as many minutes.

If not for the handling errors and problems in the set-pieces, there probably should have been more.

Callan’s yellow card saw the Fijians score 10 points, but the Aussies managed seven of their own for only a three-point net swing. It would prove crucial in the end.

The Force began well, ending a patient multiphase attack (22 phases) with a try from Lee-Warner from close range for his fourth Super Rugby try three minutes after kickoff.

Prior made no mistake to make it 17-8. However, a multitude of errors after the restart saw the Fijians hit back with a try from nothing.

A stray kick by Jake McIntyre was fielded inside the Drua half by Selestino Ravutaumada. The winger made the catch near the sideline, and sent the ball quickly through the hands to Ravouvou in centrefield.

The burly inside centre broke from midfield, slipping both Richard Kahui and Kuenzle’s tackles before racing to the 5m line.

He was tackled short, but the supporting Lomani gathered to score next to the poles to cap a stunning counter-attack.

Tela made it a two-point ball-game again before knocking over a 57th-minute penalty to give his team an 18-17 lead going into the last quarter.

Both teams went close soon after but could not find a way to eliminate the errors as the defences held.

Tela missed a 78th-minute penalty. It, ultimately, gave the Force a final chance at stealing the points, and Kuenzle made the South Sea Islanders pay.

Final Score: Fijian Drua 18 (8) Western Force 20 (10)

Scorers

Fijian Drua
Tries – Habosi, Lomani
Pen – Tela (2)
Con – Tela
Drop –
Cards –

Western Force
Tries – Thrush, Lee-Warner
Pen – Prior, Kuenzle
Con – Prior (2)
Drop –
Cards – Callan (Yellow, 41′)

Match Officials
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant Ref 1: Reuben Keane
Assistant Ref 2: James Palmer
TMO: Brett Cronan

Teams

Fijian Drua

15 Jona Mataiciwa, 14 Selestino Ravutaumada, 13 Apisalome Vota, 12 Kalaveti Ravouvou, 11 Vinaya Habosi, 10 Teti Tela, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Nemani Nagusa (captain), 7 Vilive Miramira, 6 Jovesa Tamani, 5 Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, 4 Sorovakatini Tuifagalele, 3 Samuela Tawake, 2 Mesulame Dolokoto, 1 Kaliopasi Uluilakepa

Replacements:
16 Zuriel Togiatama, 17 Jone Koroiduadua, 18 Manasa Saulo, 19 Chris Minimbi, 20 Kitione Salawa, 21 Peni Matawalu, 22 Napolioni Bolaca, 23 Onisi Ratave

Western Force

15 Jake Strachan, 14 Byron Ralston, 13 Richard Kahui, 12 Bayley Kuenzle, 11 Manasa Mataele, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Brynard Stander, 7 Ollie Callan, 6 Fergus Lee-Warner, 5 Izack Rodda, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Feleti Kaitu’u, 1 Harrison Lloyd

Replacements:
16 Andrew Ready, 17 Bo Abra, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Jackson Pugh, 20 Tim Anstee, 21 Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, 22 Reesjan Pasitoa, 23 Grason Makara



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