Super Rugby Pacific: Fijian Drua shock champion Crusaders with late penalty at Lautoka

Fijian Drua have upset six-time defending Super Rugby champions Crusaders, with a last-minute penalty providing a historic 25-24 victory at Lautoka. 

In only their second season, the home side took advantage of understrength opponents to score their first win over an NZ side in front of a wildly patriotic crowd. 

The Fijians took the lead midway through the second half, when flanker Joseva Tamani scored in the right corner from an attacking scrum, then winger Eroni Sau stretched the advantage to 10 points with another in the opposite corner.

Sam Whitelock in action for the Crusaders
Sam Whitelock in action for the Crusaders. Photo credit: Getty

The Crusaders came charging back, with Fijian-born winger Sevu Reece bringing them within a try, before debutant hooker Ioane Moananu scored off an attacking lineout to draw level.

Fergus Burke slotted the sideline conversion to snatch the lead with seconds remaining, but the Drua went onto the attack from the kickoff and surged towards the Crusaders goal-line.

They won a penalty for hands in the ruck and replacement Kemu Valetini - brother of Australian international Rob Valetini - stepped forward to create history.

Predictably, the home side rocked their guests early with their physical style and should have had the lead first, when first-five Teti Tela hooked a simple penalty attempt from in front of the posts.

With coach Scott Robertson electing to rest several of his All Blacks, the NZ team took time to settle, but eventually rode their forward superiority to the opening try from an attacking lineout, with MacDonald given an armchair ride to the line at the back of the maul.

Veteran lock Sam Whitelock should have added to the lead, when he propped off his left foot and staggered over from close range, but had the ball knocked from his grasp, as he fell to the ground.

Moments later, MacDonald had his second try in identical circumstances to his first, simply following his pack over the line from an attacking lineout.

The Drua had their chances to strike back and took one, when centre Iosefo Masi pounced on a loose ball and sprinted 30 metres for a try that gave life to the partisan crowd.

Second-five Apisalome Vota should have had another, but lost the ball over the line, allowing the Crusaders to reach halftime 12-5 ahead.

Soon after the restart, Drua drew level, when fullback Ilaisa Droasese finished a counterattack from their own half and Tela converted from out wide.

By then momentum had switched to the home side, with Robertson introducing rookies into a seething cauldron of pressure.

To their credit, they fought back to grab the lead back and seemed to have escaped with a flattering win, but the Drua were not to be denied, securing their second win of the season.

Crusaders Scott Barrett did not get the result he would have wished for in his 100th appearance, but they will try to bounce back from their second defeat of 2023 against the Blues next Saturday.

Drua 25 (Masi, Tamani, Sau & Droasese tries; Tela conversion, Valetini penalty) Crusaders 24 (MacDonald 2, Moananu & Reece tries; Burke 2 conversions)