Super Rugby Pacific: Champion Crusaders tumble to third straight defeat against rampant Fijian Drua

Defending champions Crusaders have slumped to their third straight defeat to start the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific campaign, falling 20-10 to Fijian Drua at Lautoka.

For the second time in 12 months, the Christchurch-based team could not handle the Churchill Park cauldron that enables the competition newcomers, now in their third year, to elevate their game to another level.

After two losses of their own - to the Blues and Moana Pasifika - the result also marked the Drua's first win of the season.

 Vilive Miramira in action for Drua.
Vilive Miramira in action for Drua. Photo credit: Getty Images

The Crusaders opened the scoring with a penalty to first-five Tahu Kemara and – ironically – had the first try through their own Fijian influence, winger Sevu Reece, who scythed through the defence without a hand on him.

Drua responded with a penalty to Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula, before winger Selestino Ravutaumada shrugged off three would-be tacklers for their first try. Armstrong-Ravula's sideline conversion levelled the scores. 

Kemara missed a chance to put the visitors ahead at halftime and soon after the restart, the Fijians were quickly on top of Reece, as he scrambled back on defence, turning the ball over and putting halfback Frank Lomani across for the go-ahead try.

The home side had a chance to forge further ahead, after breaking out of their own half, but the move broke down with a forward pass metres from an open tryline.

From a Drua defensive lineout, Crusaders flanker Dom Gardiner almost latched onto a loose ball on the tryline to score, but knocked on, as an inability to handle the ball in humid conditions became a common theme.

The Crusaders were still in the hunt, but suffered the decisive blow, when prop Joe Moody was pinged for not rolling away from the breakdown and Armstrong-Ravula slotted a penalty that carried the Drua beyond a converted try with three minutes remaining.

The visitors had one final chance to snatch a bonus point, but their hopes were dashed by a crooked throw to an attacking lineout and the Fijians were able to find touch from the ensuing scrum to end the contest.

Last year, a depleted Crusaders outfit, with many of their stars on mandated All Blacks rest, were beaten 25-24 at the same venue, as they limped out of the blocks with just one win from their first three games. Even that was better than this.

"We just didn't execute," admitted captain Scott Barrett. "We had multiple opportunities down there, particularly around our lineout, and we just weren't sharp and clinical like we had hoped.

"We were clear on our gameplan, it was pretty simple and we just didn't execute. Greasy ball, little opportunities, and you give the Fijian Drua a sniff and they'll punish you."

The path ahead becomes no easier for the Crusaders, who host unbeaten Hurricanes next Friday, visit the unbeaten Blues after that and then host unbeaten Chiefs.

Fijian Drua 20 (Ravutaumada & Lomani tries; Armstrong-Ravula 2 conversions & penalty) Crusaders 10 (Reece try; Kemara conversion & penalty)

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