The Highlanders were forced to dig deep to fight the spirited Drua in Suva

The Highlanders cruelly denied Fiji Drawa a historic victory in their first Pacific Super Rugby match on their home ground, with the full squad at ANZ Stadium in Suva unable to lift their team to victory.

The Visitors rebounded from last week’s Super Tour loss to the Brombie to claim a thrilling 27-24 win on Saturday.

The Highlanders did not hit the lead until the 63rd minute when they rejected three points given after receiving a penalty and instead backed themselves up to make an attempt from the line.

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Aotearoa Rugby Pod | Episode 11

They surged through a replacement whore Reese Marshall after driving the ball over the line to take a 25-24 lead before that was extended by a Mitchell Hunt diversion.

In their first season, Drua played all of their home games against Australian teams in Australia due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

They had a raucous homecoming with over 15,000 fans providing a Carnival vibe with Mexican waves and horns.

The loyal Fijians did not have to wait long to celebrate the third-minute goal by full-back Frank Lomani.

The Highlanders equalized soon after through Sam Gilbert after they fired wide for the wing to fumble across the line.

Drua’s second attempt was a standout, starting on the inside of the 22nd with Vinaya Habusi walking her limbs down the sideline before turning on the burners.

And they added the third goal when Calavite Rafovo slipped into the goal with a Titi Tela kick and led 24-17 in the first half.

An early penalty for the Highlanders in the second half proved crucial to blocking Fiji’s Fairy Tale.

Marshall’s attempt was the only five-pointer from the second forty, with the Highlanders holding their own in the face of some relentless Drua attacks while chasing the match-winner.

This was the guys from Dunedin’s second win of the season, having previously beaten another new competition at Moana Pacifica.

“This was a full 80 minute effort – it’s a great game and I’m so proud of our boys for staying there,” Highlanders captain and quarterback Aaron Smith told Stan Sport.

“We knew the Fijians would be very dangerous because they are a team that can score from nothing and they got a couple of early goals but we stuck to our plan.”

Drua captain Millie Derinalaghi was disappointed that they couldn’t take the first win.

“We knew the Highlanders would come to us and I’m proud of the boys’ efforts, trying to stay competitive and play 80-minute rugby,” he said.

Highlanders 27 (Sam Gilbert, Marino Mikael Too, Reese Marshall tries; 3 diversions and 2 penalty kicks for Mitch Hunt)

Fiji Droit 24 (attempts by Frank Lomani, Vinaya Habusi and Kalveti Rafuvo; 3 diversions and a Titi Tila penalty)

– More is coming

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