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Blues prop Angus Ta’avao.

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Pacific rugby the winner on the day as knockout footy gets underway

Blues prop Angus Ta’avao is anticipating a challenging game with plenty of “razzle and dazzle” against Fijian Drua in the Super Rugby quarterfinal at Eden Park on Saturday.

Michelle Curran
07 June 2024, 5:37pm
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Facing Fijian Drua in the Super Rugby quarterfinals is a massive coup for Pacific rugby says Blues prop Angus Ta’avao.

The Blues will go head-to-head against the Drua at Eden Park on Saturday night in a series of quarterfinal games being played over the weekend.

Staunchly proud of his Samoan roots, 34-year-old Ta’avao says having the Drua make the quarter finals for a second consecutive year is massive for Pacific rugby.

“Although they are not in the finals, Moana Pasifika have also made some good strides this year,” Ta’avao says.

The seasoned All Black and Super Rugby player with 125 Super games (63 for the Blues) under his belt adds he is pleased the quarterfinal is not being played in Fiji, particularly after the Drua’s 40-19 victory over Melbourne Rebels last week in Lautoka.

“We have the luxury of playing at home - over there in the heat and humidity, it’s different.”

The Drua’s win over the Australian franchise saw the Fijians finish seventh in the Super Rugby standings, while the Blues were “gutted” they could not quite secure top of the table status and finished in second spot, Ta’avao says.

“What they (Fijian Drua) have been building over there, you can see the growth they have had over the last few years, the power, the razzle, the dazzle, everything in between.

“Their set piece operates really well, and they have a good balanced squad.

“This weekend is massive for Pacific rugby and obviously it will set Fiji up quite well.”

Despite feeling the frustration of missing out on the number one spot, Ta’avao says the Blues squad is confident ahead of what is a big game for all involved.

“It’s knockout footy, so you have to get into the right mindset … at the back of your mind it’s do or die, it’s win or go home, so the margins become a bit smaller.

“It is all based on what we have done throughout the year - the hard work we have put in to get here, the way we have been playing has been pretty sharp.

“We will back what we have done and be confident in the work we have put in this week … we will leave it all out there on Saturday night.”

While grateful to be playing on home soil, Ta’avao is looking forward to seeing what the Fijian fans bring to Eden Park.

“The waves, the passion - I hope it will be a good mix of Blues and Fijian fans bringing good energy.”

Pacific rivalry will undoubtedly flair up, with the likes of Ta’avao proudly representing his Samoan heritage, on and off the field.

“My Samoan heritage is who I am.

“Dad is a big rugby fan, he backed himself when he was playing…he reckons he was one of the fastest fullbacks in Samoa growing up.

“I didn’t inherit that speed,” he quips.

This year, Ta’avao and several teammates have been taking Gagana Samoa lessons to try and retain the language back.

“It’s part of me, who I am, I wear it on my skin, it’s my last name, it’s put up there on the board when I’m announced, I’m definitely proud,” he adds.

With a Super Rugby title in sight, Ta’avao says his team will be playing to win on Saturday night.

“I feel like we have everything here to go all the way, and it is just up to us now.

“It starts this week against Fijian Drua, we will try and set a good scene and go from there – but really, it’s week to week mate, week to week.”

Kick-off is at 7:05pm on Saturday, at Auckland’s Eden Park.

Blues (1-15): Ofa Tu'ungafasi, Ricky Riccitelli, Marcel Renata, Patrick Tuipulotu (c), Josh Beehre, Akira Ioane, Dalton Papali'i, Hoskins Sotutu, Finlay Christie, Harry Plummer, Caleb Clarke, AJ Lam, Rieko Ioane, Mark Tele'a, Stephen Perofeta.

Reserves: Kurt Eklund, Joshua Fusitu'a, Angus Ta'avao, Cameron Suafoa, Adrian Choat, Taufa Funaki, Corey Evans, Cole Forbes.

Fijian Drua (1-15): Livai Natave, Tevita Ikanivere, Mesake Doge, Mesake Vocevoce, Leone Rotuisolia, Etonia Waqa, Kitione Salawa, Meli Derenalagi (c), Frank Lomani, Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula, Waqa Nalaga, Kemu Valetini, Iosefo Masi, Selestino Ravutaumada, Ilaisa Droasese.

Reserves: Zuriel Togiatama, Emosi Tuqiri, Samu Tawake, Isoa Nasilasila, Motikiai Murray, Elia Canakaivata, Peni Matawalu, Caleb Muntz.

Referee: Nic Berry.

Assistant Referees: Jordan Way, Reuben Keane.