The Force claimed an important bonus point win in a bizarre game at NIB Stadium tonight.
I didn’t hold out much hope for a decent contest or standard of footy tonight, because the weather leading up to (and indeed in the early play) the game was pretty filthy. For a couple of days leading up to the match we’d had some pretty torrential downpours and winds approaching 100km/h lash the city. This doesn’t usually make for a decent spectacle, especially when the Force aren’t a team who run the ball with abandon at the best of times (not a criticism, merely a statement of fact). As it turned out, the weather cleared considerably and the contest turned out to be rather more entertaining than I anticipated (for some good and not so good reasons).
The first quarter was a bit of an arm wrestle, with both teams trying to gain field position. The Lions were kicking with a pretty strong North-Westerly in the first half but it didn’t seem to help them much. Try as they might, they couldn’t consistently get out of their half. The Force had them more or less pinned down, rather like had happened to them the previous week in Cape Town. Little by little the home team gained an advantage in field position and pressured the Lions into kicking long out of their half. Nevertheless visitors came away with points after nearly every foray into the Force half and were leading 9-3 at one stage.
In spite of having plenty of the pill and a territorial advantage the Force didn’t seem to have their attacking game in order. They were going a bit sideways and at times were a bit inaccurate. It was turning into one of those kinds of awkward games where you feel like you should be on top and you look at the score board and wonder why the other blokes are in front. That all changed with a fairly mystifying yellow card right before half time. The Lions prop Corne Fourie was marched for a tackle on Nathan Charles and the Force elected to take a scrum against a Lions pack suddenly a man down. They duly converted the chance and found themselves up 10-9. I reckon Michael Foley would have been pretty happy with that at half time, but things got even better almost right away when the Force showed some serious adventure in their own 22.
A couple of crisp passes had a breakout occurring down the wing and some even better support play saw the ball spread to the opposite wing and Nick Cummins smashed through a hole in the Lions defence. Some patient lead up play from that point onwards put Jayden Hayward over in the corner. It was pretty exhilarating stuff and had the home team well and truly in control at half time.
The second half had the momentum still with the Force and they started to really dominate possession and territory. You felt that the dam wall was going to break open at any moment, because there were several times when they were all over the Lions, but somehow managed not to score. They did cross the line once during this period of play, but the try was disallowed due to obstruction (which I thought was rubbish, where was Hayward supposed to go after the double cut out pass?). There were several other opportunities squandered by a lack of accuracy or thwarted by a steal at the breakdown.
Through all of this, though, it was easy to forget that the lead was only six points and that the Lions were well in the game (on the score board at least). They got to within three with about ten minutes to go and what followed was one of the weirder sequences of play I’ve seen in quite a while. Jolted by not being up by more, the Force suddenly sprung into life and nearly scored right away through Zack Holmes. After he was ruled held up, they scored off the next scrum when Tuatara-Morrison ran a great line onto a superb flat ball to score next to the posts. Game over at that point we all thought.
Not so fast. The Lions got back to the Force goal line and nearly scored, but for a knock on over the line. They did score right after that when a messy scrum led to a bit of hot potato in the goal area and Cummins shanking the clearing kick in a hilarious manner. If there is a kicking version of the Falcon, I think we saw it tonight. The Lions gathered the ball and went over. Back to three points the difference then and game on. The Force went deep from the kick off and the visitors (as you would expect) attempted to run the ball from their 22. They turned the ball over and Matt Hodgson scored again to put the game beyond any doubt. I don’t think anyone would have predicted how helter skelter the game became in that last ten minutes. It was just bizarre. The Force walked away with five points and still a big chance to make the finals.
The Game Changer
The yellow card near half time. The Force scored twice and swung the momentum decisively in their favour
The G&GR MotM
Matt Hodgson again, for the umpteenth time this season, though the Force did get dusted at the breakdown tonight
The Force captain has to be a big chance to be on the bench for the French series. He’s absolutely ageless.
Force: 29 Hodgson 2, Hayward, Tuatara-Morrison tries; Ebersohn, Hayward 2 cons; Ebersohn pen) defeated Lions: 19 (Jantjies try; Jantjies conv; Boshof 4 pens)
Yellow cards: Fourie (Lions)
Refereee: Steve Walsh