SYDNEY (Reuters) - Fijian Drua hammered the Queensland Reds 41-17 in Suva on Saturday to romp into the Super Rugby Pacific playoffs in only their second season in the competition and leave the Australians sweating on other results.
The Drua stuck with their running rugby despite greasy conditions at a packed HFC Bank Stadium and were rewarded with six tries and a place in the quarter-finals, where they will meet the Waikato Chiefs or the Canterbury Crusaders.
The Reds scored tries from close range through Ryan Smith and Fraser McReight to go into halftime on level terms at 17-17 but wilted in the second half and now need the Chiefs to beat the Western Force later on Saturday to secure post-season play.
"You can see how happy we are right now," said Drua captain Meli Derenalagi.
"Hats off to the soldiers behind me for turning up for duty today. Our fans being behind us throughout the season has been a major enjoyment for our players and that's why they are playing their hearts out today."
The Drua, who have now won five of six matches on home soil this season, had the partisan crowd in full voice as early as the fourth minute when fullback Selestino Ravutaumada blocked a defensive kick and recovered the ball to touch down.
The Reds quickly hit back through Smith after rolling a maul close to the Drua try line, a sequence of events that was repeated when winger Kalaveti Ravouvou scored the home side's second try and McReight responded.
A James O'Connor penalty after 29 minutes put the visitors 17-12 ahead but the Drua levelled the scores with a brilliant try, Iosefo Masi chipping the ball ahead and flanker Vilive Miramira scooping it up to crash over the line.
The second half was one-way traffic as unrelenting running from the home side and the Suva heat took its toll on the Reds players.
Prop Mesake Doge and hooker Tevita Ikanivere scored tries and a couple more were called back by the match officials before lock Joseva Tamani snatched up a loose ball and cantered half the length of the field to put a gloss on the score.
"Real tough second half there," said Reds skipper Tate McDermott. "I was proud of the effort in the first half but it was nowhere near where it needed to be in the second half."
The victory ended the Otago Highlanders' slender hopes of a playoff berth and the eighth spot in the quarter-finals will be decided in the final match of the regular season later on Saturday.
The Force can leapfrog the Reds, and possibly the Drua, in the standings and move into a playoff spot if they can beat the competition leading Chiefs in Perth.
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; editing by Robert Birsel)