The Reds have snatched a late draw with the Force at NIB stadium
It was close all night and a frequently absorbing contest, though the Reds enjoyed long periods of dominance in possession and territory.
The early going was marked by some big defence and a fierce contest at the breakdown. The Reds enjoyed the better of the exchanges and were camped in the Force half and were only denied by some very committed tackling by the home side and plenty of numbers in the ruck.
The Reds nearly scored early on, capitalising on a mistake in a Force lineout and shifting the ball smartly to Digby Ioane. He looked to have gotten over the line, but the replay showed that he hit the touch line in the act of scoring. Nevertheless, it was an early portent of the kind of game that Ioane was to have.
It took the Force some time to get out of their own half and on the first occasion they did they also nearly scored. Nick Cummins, celebrating a return from an injury, showed great skill in the air grab a box kick and then proceed to bust the line in his customary fashion (the Force have really missed in that in time he’s been gone). The Force pack then carried on his good work and ended up drawing a penalty eventually.
Both teams then went through periods of territory dominance and each pack employed the rolling maul on a number of occasions, especially from a catch and drive at the lineout. The maul defence, especially from the Reds, was first class however. At the breakdown, the Force back row (as well as hooker Heath Tessmann) were absolutely ferocious and won numerous penalties. It was a great battle all night.
In the second half the pressure, pace and skill were stepped up a notch. The game seemed to free up a bit and there were several significant line breaks. Ioane again imposed himself on the game on a number of occasions, using his now trademark step and power in contact to frequently get over the gain line. He had a fabulous game.
Nick Cummins also imposed himself on the game in emphatic fashion in assisting with a fantastic try for the Force. It started with winning a big turnover ten metres out from their goal line, then some powerful running up the middle from the likes of Kyle Godwin, culminating with Cummins making another line busting run down the side line. The ensuing ruck had a Ben McCalman running hard from depth to crash over. It was a great team try and typified the kind of rugby the Force can play when they focus on keeping the tempo up and opt for directness in attack.
The game was a bit of an arm wrestle for some time after that, until the Reds were able to string together a number of phases through the forwards. They edged ever closer to the Force line and eventually scored through weight of pressure and possession, when Feauai-Sautia edged over.
Both teams had a crack with the remaining minutes on the clock, but neither was able to muster enough phases to get themselves in front. So a draw it ended up and both teams will take something away from the game. The Force were hugely committed in defence and scrapped hard and the Reds showed plenty of intent to attack, with the Genia, Cooper and Ioane a constant threat. Both packs muscled up appropriately and probably ended the contest tied.
The Game Changer
There wasn’t really a single moment in the game that stood out as changing the contest. It was more that there were a lot of mini battles across the paddock. Had the Force won, I would have nominated McCalman’s try, as it was the best footy they played all night.
The G&GR MotM
Will Genia had an exception game I thought. His option taking, marshalling of the troops and linking with Cooper was fantastic. He’s starting to get back to the kind of form that made him close to the best half back in the world some time ago.
Digby Ioane, on the strength of tonight’s performance, would have to be a massive chance to occupy one wing in the Lions series. He was brilliant last night.
Force: 11 (McCalman try; Ebersohn 2 pens) drew with Reds: 11 (Feauai-Sautia try; Cooper 2 pens)
Yellow cards: None
Refereee: Rohan Hoffman