Highlanders ruin Drua's Fiji party with second half comeback

The Highlanders have ruined the Drua's party in Suva after coming from behind to beat the Fijian side 27-24 on Saturday evening.

After both sides performed cultural challenges before the kickoff, the Drua got off to the perfect start after running the ball back to halfway off a wayward kick from the Highlanders in the second minute.

That led to a move towards the left wing which allowed Vinaya Habosi to break away into the Highlanders' half before drawing and passing to halfback Frank Lomani, who ran the final 30 metres to score under the posts. The try gave the hosts a 7-0 lead in the third minute.

READ MORE: Fan excitement peaking for Drua's first game in Fiji

That got the packed ANZ Stadium crowd involved, with the home crowd roaring with delight at their team's first try on home soil.

The Highlanders didn't let the situation get to them though, as they built pressure off the restart and set up camp with ball in hand inside the Drua's 22 for the next five minutes.

After multiple scrums and runs at the Drua's line, the ball was finally shifted to the right wing where Sam Gilbert dived in the corner untouched.

Despite the tough angle from the right sideline, Mitch Hunt delivered the extras to tie the game back up.

The Highlanders looked to continue building pressure by keeping the Drua deep inside their half of the field but a turnover at the breakdown gave the flying Fijians the perfect chance to strike and Habosi sprinted 70m down the left wing to put his side back in front 14-7.

Fans celebrate a try by the Fijian Drua against the Highlanders.

Despite the try and continued energy being supplied from the fired-up Suva crowd, the Highlanders continued to control the game and keep the ball inside the Drua's half.

A penalty from Hunt moved the Highlanders to within four.

The penalty came back to haunt the Highlanders though with the visitors given a taste of their own treatment as the Drua took control of the ball inside their half.

That led to yet another Habosi break down the left wing that was stopped just metres from the line, but with an advantage in their back pocket, a beautiful grubber through the Highlanders' line was pounced on by Kalaveti Ravouvou to score.

The Drua looked set to continue dominating the match but they let the Highlanders sneak back in after a lineout error and penalty off the restart gave the southerners a lineout metres from the tryline.

Rather than go to a maul off it, as so many Kiwi teams have so far this season, the Highlanders took the ball to the middle of the field where Marino Mikaele-Tu’u powered through two Drua tacklers to score under the posts, cutting the deficit to 21-17.

Marino Mikaele-Tu'u makes a run against the Fijian Drua.

An uncharacteristic error from Aaron Smith at the back of the scrum gave the Drua one last chance to strike before halftime with their own scrum now setting on the Highlanders' 40m line.

That led to a penalty as the hooter went which Teti Tela stepped up to convert into three points, giving his side a 24-17 lead at the break.

With wet weather in Suva, both sides struggled to handle the ball in the second half.

The first scoring opportunity came to the Highlanders after the break with Hunt putting his side within four points with a penalty in front.

Both sides looked to make the most of the slippery conditions by going to a kicking game off the restart, looking to force errors but it was the Highlanders who eventually won the opportunity. They ended up with a lineout just outside the Drua's 22 after a kick went out on the full.

The Highlanders used the opportunity to earn another penalty but instead of opting for the free three points on offer, Smith had Hunt kick for the corner and set up a 5m lineout.

This time the team went to the maul with Rhys Marshall getting in at the back and eventually going over to score, giving the Highlanders a 27-24 lead going into the final 20 minutes.

The Drua were given a chance to immediately respond though with a penalty on halfway resulting in a lineout 15m from the Highlanders' line, but the set piece continued to be their Achilles' heel as they gave the ball away with a crooked throw.

With that, the Highlanders looked to play the territory game, kicking the ball away to keep the Drua inside their own half and build pressure from there.

The Drua accepted the challenge, looking to the run the ball back from their own half but handling errors and miscommunication were starting to creep into their game.

With five minutes to go, the hosts were given a reprieve though with an offside penalty, allowing them to kick for touch and get another shot at retaking the lead, with a lineout on the Highlanders' 22.

The Highlanders held firm though, forcing the handling error that gave them a much-needed win.

Fijian Drua: 24 [Frank Lomani, Vinaya Habosi, Kalaveti Ravouvou tries; Teti Tela 3 con, 1 pen]

Highlanders: 27 [Sam Gilbert, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, Rhys Marshall tries; Mitch Hunt 3 con, 2 pen]

Halftime: 24-17