Baselala, Natave drafted into main Drua squad

18-year-old high school sensation Philip Baselala (right) and 24-year-old Flying Fijians prop Livai Natave. Picture: SUPPLIED

Philip Baselala and Livai Natave have been awarded full time playing contracts and drafted into the main Swire Shipping Fijian Drua squad.

The 18-year-old high school sensation and 24-year-old Flying Fijians prop were previously part of the Drua’s development squad and have been promoted to bolster the main playing squad at halfback and the front row.

The progression allows both players to compete for spots in the team’s matchday 23 for this season’s Shop N Save Super Rugby Pacific competition.

Fijian Drua CEO Mark Evans said the fact that they have already identified players to move from the development group into the main playing squad for two key positions showcases their commitment to their player pathways.

“It’s one of the key strategic objectives of our Club, to offer capable young Fijian players a clear progression to being professional footballers right here at home,” Evans said.

Baselala becomes one of the youngest players to sign a full Super Rugby Pacific contract.

In 2022, he starred as halfback for Suva Grammar School in Fiji’s Deans competition, as well as Fiji’s U20 and the Fiji Warriors teams.

He has previously played for Fiji U18.

His inclusion comes as regular Drua halfback, Simione Kuruvoli is ruled out for most of the season as he recovers from shoulder surgery.

Meanwhile Natave was drafted into the Drua development group after impressing for Suva in the Skipper Cup – Fiji’s premier provincial competition, as well as Army in the prestigious Sukuna Bowl challenge.

Natave made his debut for the Flying Fijians in November’s Northern Tour and has earned three caps.

Head coach Mick Byrne said: “When the opportunity comes for a spot in our squad, we want our pathway players to be given the first chance. Obviously, they have to be capable of taking on that role, and that’s what having them here as a part of the development programme is about. It’s about understanding how much development they need and where their areas of focus are, so when the opportunity comes, we want to those players to step up.”

“The opportunity came for a prop and Livai got the opportunity. Simi (Kuruvoli) has been injured and has required surgery and will miss most of Super Rugby Pacific and we were able to replace him internally with Philip. It is an indication that our pathways are identifying players, which was a wonderful in just our first year of having an academy,” Byrne said.

The Fijian Drua will meet the Melbourne Rebels this Saturday at Prince Charles Park, Nadi for its first pre-season trial match.

The match will kick-off at 3pm.

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