Western Force 24 Crusaders 16
You’re never going to keep me down. The Western Force did a bit of ‘tubthumping’ themselves last night and produced a sensational second half embracing commitment and quality to defeat the best provincial rugby team in the world.
And they did it without their star player Rabbit O’Connor who was languishing on the sideline with a broken wing. It was achieved despite all the mighty Crusader weaponry deployed on the park – McCaw, Read, Jack, Thorn, Franks (2), Carter, Guildford blah, blah, blah.
In a statement of ‘what might have been’, the Force have returned from the dark side to bring confidence, consistency and a bit of star quality to their game.
Friday night’s match had a bit of everything. Down 13-0 at halftime, it didn’t look like the Force had the firepower to break through the Crusader’s defences.
They’d had 54% of possession in that half but couldn’t do anything with it as they turned over pill, lost lineout throws, made mistakes or took wrong options, more so in the Crusader’s red zone than anywhere.
It was all a bit frustrating at oranges without any tangible result for a lot of effort expended. The Force played the expansive game by taking the attacking option – foregoing kicks at goal and taking the sideline.
Sharpie and co were attacking the short side a lot and out wide Mitch Inman made a number of forays but it appeared to be a lost cause at the time.
The Crusaders looked to be cruising during the half with No. 9 Kahn Fotuali’i scoring a try in the 4th minute due to lazy Force marker defence; he kicked a wobbly drop goal later on and Carter was successful with a conversion and penalty to lead by 13.
The transformation after halftime was just outstanding. The Force significantly upped the ante and the enthusiasm was infectious. Wasn’t the crowd a force multiplier for their side? A full house provided a cacaphony of support.
The Force morphed into ‘the Western Reds’, attacking with depth, vision and importantly, support. In the 45th min Ben Whittaker, who had a pearler of a game, scored the first Force try.
It was converted by Hill and 4 mins later Pek Cowan scored after breaking from a maul near the Crusaders line. David Hill’s wobbly conversion hit the posts but fortuitously bounced over for the Force to lead 14-12.
At this stage (57 min), Sheehan was replaced by Justin Turner – Sheehan had a cracker game as well – and the Force braced for the Crusader’s onslaught.
It came alright but was initially repulsed by tremendous defence. However, Carter dropped a goal in the 70th min to retake the lead 16-14.
And then it happened. The play that stopped a nation….well, it gobsmacked the crowd and probably the TV audience as well (in Australia, that is).
Nathan Charles, a blood replacement for Whittaker, pounced on a loose ball at the back of a Crusader’s ruck 8m out from the Force line.
He picked it up and ran….and ran….and ran. About 60m later and then he was tackled. He off-loaded to Cam Shepherd who was himself brought down about 8m from the Crusader’s line. He threw the ball inside and who should be there? Matt Hodgson, who else? He picked it up and scored.
The conversion gave it 21-16 to the Force. A subsequent Hill penalty advanced that to 24-16. The Force momentum then controlled it to the end.
Wow, an upset of huge proportions? They’ve always given the Crusaders a bit of trouble, but in this instance, double trouble!
Who do you single out in a game that epitomises a ‘team win’? The quality of the loose trio is well known and in this instance Bam Pocock was simply sublime. Brown and Hodgson weren’t far off that also. I’m not sure it’s planned but in attack these three seemed to regularly pop up as a pod one-off from the ruck.
Again, Sharpie led the way with runs (12) and metrage. Pek Cowan was another who had his best game of the season and Ben McCalman continues to impress, in this case as a 2nd rower.
In the backs, Hill took it to the line often (he’s of a substantial size and takes a bit of stopping) and his decision-making and kicking game were superior. I thought he outplayed Carter.
I mentioned Mitch Inman before and he’s becoming more comfortable at this level as a sizeable, rangy centre who takes a bit of stopping.
The hesitancy and defeatism of last week’s Blues outing is over. The Force are 11th on the board and finish with a South African tour taking in the Lions, Cheetahs and Sharks.
If they were to replicate last night’s performance they’ll head north on the ladder and finish in a far more creditable position than first thought.
Western Force 24 (Cowan, Hodgson, Whittaker tries, Hill 3 cons, pen) bt Crusaders 16 (Fotuali’i try, Carter con, pen, Carter, Fotuali’i drop goals)
Put his hand up: Bam Pocock. Back to his best at No. 7, Pocock was everywhere in attack and defence and convincingly outplayed Richie McCaw.
Did himself no favours: Nobody. Nobody’s perfect (apart from John Eales) but there was no-one in the Force team that didn’t stand out – complete team effort.
Bolter watch: Cowan, Whittaker, McCalman and Inman. How do you work this one out? These guys were simply the best (isn’t it great that we don’t have a salary cap?).