Exhausted Moana Pasifika players have been left praying and rejoicing after resisting a fierce fightback to hang on for an historic 39-36 Super Rugby Pacific win over Fijian Drua.

Down to 13 men for much of the last 15 minutes, Tana Umaga’s entire Pasifika outfit dropped to their knees in triumph and relief after denying the Drua an improbable comeback win from 24 points down midway through the second half.

Former Wallabies Sekope Kepu and Christian Lealiifano almost turned villains for Pasifika in a frenetic finish to the 10-try points-fest at Melbourne’s AAMI Park on Saturday.

After both being thrust into the fray late, Kepu was somewhat harshly sent to the sin bin for an apparent offside while defending his line, leaving Moana two players short after winger Nigel Ah Wong was earlier red-carded for a dangerous tackle.

Lealiifano then gifted the Drua the chance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat after kicking out on the full from the restart following Iliesa Junior Ratuva’s 73rd-minute try that made it 39-36.

In the end, though, it was Lealiifano’s penalty goal in the 64th minute that ultimately proved the difference in the Super Round thriller that provided Moana Pasifika’s first-ever win over the Drua.

Few could have predicted the wild finish when the two sides were deadlocked at 8-all after the halftime siren sounded.

But Moana piled on 14 points with two quickfire tries either side of the interval following the yellow-carding of electrifying Drua winger Selestino Ravutaumada.

Ravutaumada brought down Iliesa Junior Ratuva with a clumsy trip and Moana wasted no time making his side pay.

First Henry Taefu finished off a dazzling movement after halftime, then Lotu Inisi bagged a classic No.8’s try through the middle almost immediately after the interval to vault the Pasifika into a 22-8 lead.

Ravutaumada did his best to atone for his costly blunder with a brilliant try to reduce the deficit to seven points.

Alas for the Drua, Moana added two more tries while down to 14 men following Ah Wong’s dismissal before Lealiifano’s penalty pushed the Pasifika out to a 39-15 lead.

But unanswered tries to Elia Canakaivata and winger Epelli Momo and Junior Ratuva set up the grandstand finish.

Moana Pasifika: 15 Danny Toara, 14 Nigel Ah Wong, 13 Henry Taefu, 12 Julian Savea, 11 Viliami Fine, 10 William Havili, 9 Ere Enari, 8 Lotu Inisi, 7 Sione Havili Talitui (captain), 6 Jacob Norris, 5 Allan Craig, 4 Tom Savage, 3 Sione Mafielo, 2 Sama Malolo, 1 Abraham Pole

Replacements: 16 Samiuela Moli, 17 Sateki Latu, 18 Sekope Kepu, 19 Ola Tauelangi, 20 Irie Papuni, 21 Aisea Halo, 22 Christian Lealiifano, 23 Kyren Taumoefolau

Fijian Drua: 15 Isikeli Rabitu, 14 Selestino Ravutaumada, 13 Iosefo Masi, 12 Apisalome Vota, 11 Epeli Momo, 10 Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula, 9 Frank Lomani, 8 Meli Derenalagi (captain), 7 Ella Canakaivata, 6 Etonia Waqa, 5 Isoa Nasilasila, 4 Mesake Vocevoce, 3 Mesake Doge, 2 Tevita Ikanivere, 1 Livai Natave

Replacements: 16 Mesulame Dolokoto, 1 Haereiti Hetet, 18 Jone Koroiduadua, 19 Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, 20 Vilive Miramira, 21 Simione Kuruvoli, 22 Kemu Valetini, 23 Junior Ratuva.