Byrne, Drua reflects on historic finals berth

Swire Shipping Fijian Drua flyhalf, Caleb Muntz on attack against the Queensland Reds defence during their Super Rugby match at the HFC Bank Stadium in Suva on Saturday, June 03, 2023. Picture: JONACANI LALAKOBAU

From the VFL to Fijian rugby, Mick Byrne rates his latest feat among the most special after the Drua earned a Super Rugby Pacific finals berth and dedicated it to the Australian coach’s late father.

The Drua ran rampant in the second half on Saturday in Suva, scoring 24 unanswered points to beat the Queensland Reds 41-17 and guarantee themselves a place in the quarterfinals.

It was the Fijian side’s sixth win in their second campaign, and their fifth from six on home soil after a debut season that yielded just two wins while based in northern NSW due to COVID-19 restrictions.

They’ll play either the Chiefs or the Crusaders in a knockout quarter-final after a stirring victory the side dedicated to Byrne and his family.

“Not forgetting our coach, coach Mick; he’s going through a hard obstacle in his life, the passing away of his father,” captain Meli Derenalagi said post-game.

“The game we played today, we dedicate to him, to touch his heart and give him some happiness.”

Byrne, a former Australian rules talent who transitioned into rugby as an in-demand kicking coach for heavyweight Test nations, has lapped up the experience at the helm of Pasifika rugby’s feel-good story.

“When you have a program that’s built around faith and family, you certainly realise what it means to people when something happens to you,” he said.

“My family’s been awesome; Dad was a great mentor and I’m really pleased we were able to put a performance in after the week we had.

“It’s a pretty special moment this one. We’ve come from a long way back. It’s a great night for us.”

Some players were in tears after the full-time whistle and their effort was praised by captain Derenalagi.

“You can see how happy we are right now,” he added.

“Hats off to the soldiers behind me for carrying out their duty today.

“Thanks for the crowd coming out in numbers. They’ve supported us throughout the season, that’s why we played our hearts out today.”

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