This article is republished with permission from ACT Rugby.
The ACT Brumbies and Fijian Drua produced an entertaining 47-43 encounter at Viking Park as both teams displayed their attacking prowess.
The Drua selected a strong starting side and it showed early when they took a 28-7 lead after 29 minutes before the Brumbies’ comeback secured the win.
Stephen Larkham will be encouraged by the full squad performance with their opening match against the Rebels just over three weeks away.
So what did we learn?
1. Like clockwork
As coaches and personnel change, the Brumbies’ love for the rolling maul remains.It set up several tries in the narrow win, with hookers Billy Pollard and Lachlan Lonergan both crossing the line.
The Brumbies continue to evolve their rolling maul game from short and the quick ball to Austin Anderson midway through the first half caught the Drua napping and set the motions for Creighton’s try.The shining moment came with the game in the balance as they sliced through the Drua pack with a brutal drive that lasted several metres before Angus Staniforth strolled over for the lead.
It remains an important weapon heading into the season when their Wallabies return.
2. The other Valetini
Kemu Valetini is primed for a big season with the Drua in 2024.The brother of Rob looked right at home at Viking Park, showcasing his great long passing game to find his wingers in space. His kicking game was generally solid throughout the performance and the deft touch to set up Ilaisa Droaesese showed off his improving game-control skills. With Caleb Muntz recovering from a serious knee injury, the door is open for Valetini to make his mark and press for a debut Fiji cap.
3. Cale capitalises
Charlie Cale stepped up to replace Pete Samu with a great stint for the hosts. Cale has excellent agility and speed for his size, causing the Drua defence troubles whenever he touched the ball. He seems to have gained confidence since last year’s debut, producing a barnstorming run to set up Shane Wilcox in the corner before producing a similar carry to provide Hudson Creighton with the space to score. Cale and Jahrome Brown will likely fight Tom Hooper for the position, with Brown reminding everyone of his talent late with a couple of strong carries to set up Klayton Thorn.
4. The production line continues
The Drua continue to find special wingers with the ability to shred defences. Taniela Rakuro showed he’s ready to step up and replace the departed Kalaveti Ravouvou and Eroni Sau with some freakish speed and athleticism. Rakuro made an instant impact in Super Rugby with the game-winner on debut against Moana Pasifika and will only get better as the season goes on. The recruitment of Epeli Momo from Montauban will also be massive, sprinting away to set up Vota’s try. In true Fijian fashion, Momo is a versatile weapon, having finished the year as a backrower in the French second division.
5. Backline depth
Unlike his Australian counterparts, Stephen Larkham opted to give his young stars the platform in the first trial and they eventually delivered in the backs. Fullback Wilcox had some nice touches that included a tidy finish in the corner and some great catch-and-pass skills to set up another. Declan Meredith continues to get better and his early chip and chase and a trio of tough conversions are signs he can match it at the top level as a playmaker following his hour in the ten jersey. Scrumhalf Klayton Thorn, centre Austin Anderson and wingers Matias Jensen and Angus Staniforth were others who raised their stocks with strong days.