By Iliesa Tora, RNZ Pacific Senior Sports Journalist
The Fijian Drua will expect nothing less than a physical encounter against the Queensland Reds in Brisbane on Sunday.
The Pacific Super Rugby Round 4 clash will be a test of character for the Drua, who recorded the upset of the season so far with their 25-24 win over the champion Crusaders in Lautoka last weekend.
Head coach Mick Byrne told a media conference at the Drua’s camp in Nadi, Fiji this week that the Reds will be very physical.
“They bring a physicality right across the board through the front row, the back row are hard men, and then out into the centres.
“And even right down to out wide, run hard, they’ll come out as hard. And that’s our prep. I think the physicality side of the game we love.”
He said the side had shown some physicality in their games so far, against Moana Pasifika, Waratahs and the Crusaders, and he expects the Drua to hold their own against the Reds.
Crusaders win is already history
With last weekend’s win raising eyebrows around the Super Rugby circles, Byrne’s work this week has been focused on getting his troops to work on the gameplan against the Reds.
Although it’s the side’s biggest victory since their debut, the players have responded well and have moved on and shifted their attention to the Queensland Reds.
He believes his players are learning to be professionals and have done a great job in refocusing on what needs to be done.
“We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves, we realise the Crusaders left a few All Blacks behind, and there are still a very good side. And they’ve done that in the past and had success,” Byrne said.
“So we still had to build a very good team and with great depth and great leadership, and great coaching, so it was great for us.
“But we also understand that, three games in and there’s a long road ahead. And while there was a great upset on the scoreboard, we’ve critiqued our performance and taken some great lessons from it.
“We’ve had our moment on the weekend to enjoy ourselves. But now we get on to the next job, and we enjoy preparing for the next week”
Byrne believes his Drua pack will be able to stand up against the Reds on Sunday, especially in the scrums and mauls, two areas they worked on against the Crusaders.
While the scrums battle levelled off, the mauls and how to stop them early is an area of focus.
“We talked about a couple of players missing their roles on the weekend. When we looked back there were a couple of players who needed to hit in the mauls,” he revealed.
“Part of their role was to get into the mauls earlier than they did. The challenge with the maul is, once it gets going it’s very hard to stop. So, if a couple of players miss their roles on stopping it then it gets quite difficult.
“We’ve addressed that, the players have seen the pictures from the weekend and we have been working hard this week to make sure that they execute their roles for the weekend. The maul has become a weapon for all teams.”
Byrne said the Drua will be keen to get a couple of their own mauls going in the game.
The win last weekend has raised the expectations of Drua fans.
Byrne says that is not a bad thing as it will drive the team to perform for the fans and the country.
“Our fans expect victory every time we run onto the field. And I’ve said many times over the year that expectations in our team are pretty high as well.
“So we want our fans to expect us to win. And we’ll do everything we can to to have those victories.
“Expectation is something you work towards, and you don’t want to hide away from it. And I think when people have high expectations for you, they obviously believe in you and they believe in what you can do. So, it gives us great confidence when our fans have high expectations.”
The Drua lineup will be named on Thursday when the management has finalised this week’s preparations.
While many will expect the winning team to be retained, Byrne and his team want to test out everyone before heading into the ciritical stages of the competition.
Star centre Iosefo Masi, winger Eroni Sau, returning captain Meli Derenalagi and winning flyhalf Kemu Valetini are players of interest in the side that is continuing to build.
SOURCE: RNZ PACIFIC/PACNEWS