Cast off the underdog tag! Fijian Drua set to become one of Super Rugby’s most dangerous sides

You hop online and there are a myriad of opinions about Super Rugby Pacific.

Some people love it because it’s a return to the days of a simple round-robin format of Super 12, in the days when you only needed one table to understand the competition.

Others hate it because they’ve been so disconnected by the lopsidedness of the competition, its many past iterations, and the domestic and international rugby politics that serve as a subtext to the actual competition on the field. The baggage of the last few years still ways heavily, despite the organisers’ best intentions to cast it off. 

However, when it comes to this new version of the competition, there is one aspect that you cannot dispute has been an unparalleled on-field success. Both with results and with fan engagement, this new arrival has shown there is a new life that can be breathed into this competition, and should they continue to grow this year, will only supercharge interest.

That new arrival? Say it together: the Fijian Drua!

Fijian Drua have been the undisputed feel good story of Super Rugby Pacific (Photo by Pita Simpson/Getty Images)

The Drua’s success, both in its original incarnation in the NRC and its new interaction in Super Rugby Pacific has shown that not only was Fiji ready to field a Super Rugby side if given the chance, but that the aforementioned side could be extremely successful.

The Drua have been more than embraced by the Fijian public: go to the island country, and they are everywhere. Their sheer passion for the sport is reflected in their players – playing the style of free-flowing, exciting rugby that dreams are made of.

Granted, it took a season for the Drua to find their feet, but their maiden finals berth and overall performance in 2023 fired a warning shot to the rest of the competition. 

Not only that, they took that form and went on to make history in the Fijian national side, beating England for the first time, derailing the Wallabies World Cup campaign and claiming their first Australian victory since 1954, and making it to the World Cup quarter-finals. 

Watch every match of Super Rugby Pacific ad-free, live & on demand on the Home of Rugby, Stan Sport.

Simon Raiwalui may have departed, but with Aussie Mick Byrne back for his third season in charge, the Fijian Drua come into 2024 among the most settled sides in the competition. With wind already in their sails, the Drua have the perfect runway to grow even further and become the biggest improvers of the season.

2024 Summary 

Mick Byrne transformed the Drua in 2023, and one of his key successes was tapping into understanding the key strengths of Fiji: the values of ‘faith and family.’ Byrne and his coaching team, along with senior members of the squad, transformed the team from 2022 into a strong family unit, forming close bonds not just with each other, but by extension with their families and their fans.

The value of this was shown for all in Round 15 last year when Fiji knocked off the Reds to make the finals. Reflecting on their 41-17 victory, Drua captain Meli Derenalagi said simply that they wanted to dedicate their performance to Byrne, whose father had passed away earlier that week.

“[We’re] not forgetting our coach, coach Mick,” Derenalgai said. “The game we played today we dedicate to him to touch his heart and give him some happiness.”

Mick Byrne has transformed the Drua in his time on Viti Levu. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

It touches on a side of rugby – at its core, it is about community, and being together – and the Drua wear that proudly.

Under that mantra, the Drua pulled together an astounding 2023 record at home, losing only one game against the Blues. Their scalps of the Reds, Hurricanes and Rebels were impressive enough, but their defeat of the Crusaders was really where everyone sat up and took notice. 

Their team cohesion and expansive backline flair kept them in many games, and while opposition teams would focus their energies on the set piece and forward pack to get go-forward, even that advanced in leaps and bounds last year, resulting in a much more difficult side to put away.

While issues persist for the Drua, Byrne and company will come into 2024 with more or less the same squad as last year – serving as a perfect opportunity to build on the foundations set. 

Squad & New Inclusions

Many Drua players have taken up opportunities elsewhere off the back of Fiji’s new team, with 13 players leaving the ranks to play in Europe or in Australia playing rugby league. While some losses will be felt, the squad already has a strong base, with Byrne only making three new additions – all in the backs. 

Waqa Nalaga and Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula will make the journey across from NPC team Manawatu to serve as support roles in the centres and flyhalf, respectively, while a new exciting talent in Epeli Momo also joins the back three ranks squad after a stint at French side Pro D2 side Montauban. 

While the question of new additions in the forwards should be considered (especially given it has traditionally been a weak point for the Drua) Byrne will be hoping that the experience gained last year in both Super Rugby and over in France will be enough to see the set piece continue to progress.

There is good reason to assume such progress, as the Drua boast the side with the second largest number of players with international experience after Moana Pasifika, with 20 players having pulled on the white jersey. Of that, 13 players will serve as options in the forwards.

Tevita Ikanivere will be a strong name to look out for, with the hooker proving to be a dangerous unit in general play, especially when accompanied by Meli Derenalagi and Vilive Miramira in the loose forwards.

In the backs, while wingers Ilaisa Droasese and Selestino Ravutaumada are the more celebrated attacking weapons of the side, the Drua also have strong depth at the scrum half, with Ratu Peni Matawalu and veteran Frank Lomani likely set to direct affairs. Australian fans, keep an eye out for a certain Simione Kuruvoli – whose boot helped power Fiji to their famous Wallaby win.

Fiji’s set piece and forward pack advanced astronomically in 2023, both for the Drua and the national side. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Squad: *denotes new signing

Props: Mesake Doge, Haereiti Hetet, Jone Koroiduadua, Livai Natave, Samu Tawake, Meli Tuni, Emosi Tuqiri

Hookers: Mesu Dolokoto, Tevita Ikanivere, Zuriel Togiatama

Locks: Te Ahiwaru Cirikidaveta, Isoa Nasilasila, Ratu Leone Rotuisolia, Sailosi Vukalokalo, Etonia Waqa

Loose Forwards: Elia Canakaivata, Meli Derenalagi, Vilive Miramira, Motikai Murray, Kitione Salawa Jr. 

Scrumhalves: Philip Baselala, Simione Kuruvoli, Frank Lomani, Ratu Peni Matawalu

Flyhalves: Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula*, Caleb Muntz, Isikeli Rabitu, Kemu Valetini

Centres: Iosefo Masi, Michael Naitokani, Waqa Nalaga*, Apisalome Vota

Wingers & Fullbacks: Epeli Momo*, Taniela Rakuro, Selestino Ravutaumada, Tuidraki Samusamuvodre, Ilaisa Droasese

Strengths & Weaknesses

Truth be told, the key attacking strengths for the Drua lie in their ruthless backline: counterattacking and open play are where they thrive. The fourth-highest side for metres gained in the competition, the Drua know how to go forward, ask questions of defence and turn half chances into try-scoring opportunities.

While this has always been one of their strengths, it’s been heightened further by their improved discipline and a developing foundation in their forward pack, who have been able to advance their style in general play in leaps and bounds over the last two years. It also fostered the fourth most successful scrum in the competition in 2023, winning 86% of their scrums.

However, their set piece is still far from perfect, with the Drua also having the least successful lineout in the competition by a notable margin, winning only 79.1% of their ball, which will need to be addressed when they come against strong set piece sides like the Crusaders and Brumbies.

The Drua have transformed the Fijian Islands into an imposing place to play for opposition teams. (Photo by Pita Simpson/Getty Images)

While broken play can make them a deadly attacking weapon, it also can be a double-edged sword, as many teams have been successful at attacking the Drua’s ruck and shutting down momentum if players get isolated. 

The last key challenge that looms is defence: despite having a strong attack, the Drua leaked a lot of points in 2024, ending the season with a points differential of -122. 

This is especially the case when on the road: similar to the Western Force, while the Drua have been able to achieve significant victories at home and improve in almost all aspects of their game when in front of a home crowd, their success drops significantly on the road, with a propensity to lose matches by 20 points or more.

If the Drua are to advance up the ladder, how they perform away from home needs to improve significantly: since they arrived in the competition in 2022 they have only managed one away victory: a 34-36 victory over Moana Pasifika.

Nail that, however, and they’ll advance further up the ladder very quickly. 


The Drua will kick off their season with a tough run of games, starting with a difficult away-from-home clash against the Blues, before the Pasifika derby against Moana Pasifika during Super Round. Following this they will welcome the Crusaders for their first home game of the season, followed by a trip to Hamilton the following week to face the other grand finalists in the Chiefs.

However, Round Five will see the Drua be presented with several good clashes, hosting the Waratahs and Western Force at home, followed by a trip to Melbourne ahead of their bye week.

Despite coming close on several occasions, winning on the road has proven elusive for the Drua. (Photo by James Worsfold/Getty Images)

This run of games continues when they return home for their Round Nine clash against the Hurricanes in Suva, followed by arguably their most anticipated clash of the year, when they play Moana Pasifika in Lautoka. 

Round Eleven will see the Drua commence a tour of Australia, facing an imposing Brumbies outfit in Canberra and a tough trip over to Perth. The final three rounds will see the Drua enjoy two games at home against the Reds and Rebels, intercut by one trip down to Dunedin to face the Highlanders.

Getting their hardest clashes out of the way first is a fantastic opportunity: not only because the Drua have the potential to lay groundwork for a solid rest of their season, but should they claim a few scalps on the way, they have a huge amount of potential to launch up the ladder later in the season. 

Predicted Finish: 4th

Okay, it’s a high finish, but this is a rapidly improving team that can no longer be afforded to be written off. 2024 should be the year the Drua cast off the underdog tag and become a real challenger for the title. With a strong, settled squad and a favourable draw, should the Fijians transition their hometown success onto the road, the sky is the limit.

Should they make the semi-finals, how much more exciting does it make this season of Super Rugby Pacific!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.