Crusader Sevu Reece on playing Drua - 'The game I wanted to play in'

Patrick McKendry
Source: 1News

The Crusaders have rested several stars for the Fijian Drua's visit to Christchurch, including Richie Mo’unga, but there was little chance of them sidelining Sevu Reece, the Fijian-born star itching to play against many of his old mates.

Crusaders Sevu Reece on his way to scoring against the Brumbies in Canberra at the weekend.

Reece will wear the No.14 jersey against the Drua at Orangetheory Stadium on Friday night in the knowledge the match will attract much interest in Fiji in particular.

The Crusaders have long had strong links with Fiji through their pacey backs – from Marika Vunibaka in the early days to Reece and former Crusaders Seta Tamanivalu, Joni Macilai and Manasa Mataele.

Reece has already made his mark as the best of them and will take the field with the Crusaders hoping to leapfrog the Brumbies into second place on the Super Rugby Pacific table.

A Blues victory over the Brumbies in Canberra on Saturday will help the Crusaders in their quest, but Robertson will likely be disappointed with anything less than a bonus point victory against a team with only two wins in their inaugural year.

But for Reece the significance of having the Drua in the competition and indeed facing them goes way beyond that. In fact, an elder brother, Cyril, once played for the Drua in the domestic Australian competition.

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Reece left for New Zealand as a teenager hoping to further his rugby career and, after attending Hamilton Boys’ High School, has found a comfortable and prosperous home at the Crusaders and with the All Blacks, but he acknowledged young Fijians now had a viable alternative.

“It’s exciting times for Fiji, especially the little kids throwing plastic bottles and pretending it’s a rugby ball,” Reece said on Wednesday. “Their dreams can be real if the kids work hard – the door is right there.

“I’m happy where I am now with the Crusaders – they’ve done a lot for me,” he said.

“For me, growing up in Fiji, I know how important opportunities are.

“I grew up playing rugby with most of them [Drua players] – I remember going to watch some of them when I was 12 years old or a bit younger so now to get an opportunity to play against them is exciting and I’ll definitely catch up them afterwards.

“This is the one game that I wanted to play in.”

Sevu Reece celebrates scoring a try against Australia at Eden Park last year alongside All Blacks teammate Anton Lienert-Brown.

Reece, still only 25, has become a key component in the Crusaders’ attack through his outright pace and ability to find the try-line, but also his anticipation and willingness to put his teammates into space.

He played his 50th game for the Crusaders against the Brumbies in Canberra last weekend, scoring his 40th try for the red and blacks in the process.

Reece has played the fewest games to get to 40 tries in Super Rugby history and now has Crusaders’ try-scoring record-holder Caleb Ralph (52 tries) in his sights.

Reece has been similarly successful with the All Blacks after making his debut in 2019. He scored a hat-trick against Fiji in Hamilton last July and has scored a try in each of his six Tests since. In total he has scored 13 tries in 16 tests.

Perhaps one of the most surprising things about Reece’s early Test career was how creative and unselfish he was on the right wing, a characteristic that Crusaders coach Scott Robertson said was evident throughout his Super Rugby career.

“He’s a world-class wing – a premier try scorer,” Robertson said. “He can score tries that not many other people can finish. It’s a real skill and you need that when you want to be a top team.

“He covers metres off the ball that no one sees but we always show the efforts that he puts in and how much care he shows the team. We’re really proud of him and what he’s achieved.”

Crusaders hooker Codie Taylor will miss the game with a rib injury, with first-five Mo’unga, and loose forwards Pablo Matera and Cullen Grace rested – the latter after recent heavy workloads.

But Robertson agreed there was no way he could rest Reece from this one.

“He’s really excited,” Robertson said. “He’s got quite a philosophical feeling to it… he knows it’s going to be a tough match. He’s also really proud of them [Drua].

“He’s proud of the organisation and they’re up and going and they all know each other - they’re all linked somewhere along the line. He’s got a few mates out there but the best way to respect them is to play well.”

Crusaders team to play the Fijian Drua at Orangetheory Stadium on Friday, kick-off 7.05pm is:

1. Finlay Brewis

2. Ricky Jackson

3. Fletcher Newell

4. Zach Gallagher

5. Sam Whitelock

6. Scott Barrett (c)

7. Tom Christie

8. Ethan Blackadder

9. Bryn Hall

10. Fergus Burke

11. Leicester Fainga'anuku

12. Jack Goodhue

13. Braydon Ennor

14. Sevu Reece

15. Chay Finaki

Reserves:

16. Shilo Klein

17. Tamaiti Williams

18. Oli Jager

19. Dominic Gardiner

20. Corey Kellow

21. Mitchell Drummond

22. Simon Hickey

23. George Bridge