Tavatavanawai Moana vs Drua preview
By Thomas Airey
The 2023 Super Rugby Pacific competition kicks off tonight in Christchurch, while the two Pacific Islands teams Moana Pasifika and Fijian Drua go head to head tomorrow night at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland.
Thomas Airey previews Moana Pasifika’s very own Fijian flyer Timoci Tavatavanawai who will take on his country men in the Pasifika clash.
Moana Pasifika’s very own Fijian flyer Timoci Tavatavanawai can’t wait to take on his countrymen the Fijian Drua at Mt Smart Stadium for the first time.
The 25-year-old from the villages of Naikawaga, Namara and Tailevu is more than excited for Saturday’s Super Rugby Pacific round one matchup.
“It’s really special,” said Tavatavanawai, who was named to start on the right wing for Moana.
“I’ve got mates over there that I know, it’s going to be really fun.”
Among Tavatavanawai’s former Fiji Under-20 teammates in the Fijian Drua lineup is Tuidraki Samusamuvodre, who has drawn the unenviable task of marking him on the left wing.
It might be the hardest job in the competition – in his debut Super Rugby season, ‘Jimmy the Jet’ beat a staggering 73 defenders; at least 10 more than any other player in the tournament.
That’s over nine tackles broken or evaded per game, so what’s Tavatavanawai’s secret?
“Beating defenders, it’s just the way I play,” he said.
“Just run, there’s no technique, no secret, I just run it.”
He credits the same instincts he has had since childhood for his successes in 2022, which saw him win Moana Pasifika’s awards for back and attacking player of the year.
“I just love to play rugby, get the ball in hand. If you love the sport, everything’s gonna fall into place,” Tavatavanawai said.
He is keen to set an even higher benchmark in 2023, and backs Moana Pasifika to do the same having had a full pre-season for the first time.
“More time to run our patterns and our gameplan, what we’ve been preparing,” Tavatavanawai said.
“It’s another game to show how much the jersey means to me.”
If Moana Pasifika can fire in front of their home fans it will only add to the festival atmosphere promised in ‘the Battle of the Pacific’.
The club will be launching their FieFie Zone at the northern end of the stadium with cultural performances, authentic island food and market stalls selling art and more.
Some proceeds from ticket sales are going to the Red Cross to support those impacted by Cyclone Gabrielle, while Moana Pasifika has gifted tickets to people assisting in recovery efforts, including volunteers at emergency evacuation centres.
The Drua beat Moana 34-19 in Sydney last year in their inaugural matchup. Both teams are out to improve on debut seasons in which they secured just two wins each.
Tavatavanawai headlines a Moana Pasifika backline featuring their most consistent performers in 2022.
Among the forwards, Mahonri Ngakuru takes over from the departed Veikoso Poloniati (gone to Racing 92 in France) as a second row starter while Jonah Mau’u will make his Super Rugby debut in the number eight jersey so often filled by Henry Time-Stowers (now at Benetton in Italy) last year.
Earlier this month the Fijian Drua tore up the contract of star winger Vinaya Habosi for a high-level code of conduct breach, so he has also joined Racing 92.
His departure is offset by the recruitment of debutant centre Iosefo Masi, who has returned to rugby union after a year at the NRL’s North Queensland Cowboys.
Masi helped Fiji 7s win Olympic gold at Tokyo 2020 alongside Drua club captain Meli Derenalagi, who is still making his way back from an ACL injury.
What: Moana Pasifika vs Fijian Drua
When: Saturday 25th Feb 2023 & Kickoff is at 4.35pm NZT
Where: Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
Buy your tickets here
Check out our interview with TImoci and a few of his team mates below