In one of the gutsier performances you’d want to see, the Force have knocked off the defending champs in Perth tonight.
It was a game that didn’t scale the heights of running rugby or necessarily capture the imagination with dazzling skill, but it did feature some great forward play and the kind of punishing defence that makes you nod your head in respect. It was tight pretty much all night, with neither side stealing a march on the other. Every time one side scored the other seemed to claw their way back to stay in touch.
It took a while for any points to be scored, but there was plenty of energy in the early exchanges from the home side. They appeared to bring a simple (and as it turns out quite effective) plan into this game. It revolved around getting up into the faces of the Chiefs, shutting down their space, smashing them backwards in contact and harassing them at the breakdown. They also went hard at the Chiefs set piece, disrupting the scrum and winning some handy pill against the throw in the line out.
The first try was a case in point. After winning a penalty and rather unexpectedly (to me anyway) kicking for the corner, the Force tried the catch and drive from the line out and won a couple more penalties when the Chiefs were pinged for offside play in the maul. You got the impression that the home side thought they could target this part of the game, because they tried it several times in this period and a couple of others during the game. At one point I thought they’d overplayed this tactic and blown it (spurning several scoring opportunities), but to their credit one more go at it burst the dam wall and they went over. This was all a bit of shock to the home fans and many from the opposition as well (and there were plenty of them around me).
From that point until half time there was a fair bit of ping-ponging the ball between the 22’s and the two teams traded penalties. There was clearly a contrast of styles out there. The Force would hoof the ball deep into the opposition half and the Chiefs would catch and try to run the ball back. You got the sense that the visitors could bust things open at any given moment, but somehow they never managed to. Credit to the Force defence for that, as well as listlessness in the Chiefs performance that was fairly unexpected. With that said, they took the points on offer whenever they ventured into the Force 22 and surprisingly went into the break ahead, such was the run of play (and the fact that they had a man in the bin).
The second half was more of the same really. The Force scored again off a movement that started with a catch and drive from another penalty put into the corner and finished with the captain crashing over for his second try from a pick and drive close to the line. From that point onwards the home side just kept smashing into the Chiefs until they got sick of it. Every time the visitors looked like they were finally going to burst through and score the Force laid on another scrambling tackle or pilfered from the breakdown.
It really was one of the braver defensive performances you’d ever want to witness. At various stages the Force looked knackered and ready to start falling off tackles but they never did. They stuck to the plan and didn’t give the Chiefs a moments peace. It was suffocating and the Chiefs couldn’t seem to get out of second gear on attack. They put several good periods of phase play together, where they were able to get their pack going forward and develop some momentum, but it seemed to break down constantly with a knock on or penalty.
As the game went into the last ten minutes many people in the crowd (me included) started to think that the men in blue might somehow pull this off. They duly did, on the basis of a big performance from a pretty underrated pack and constant pressure at the breakdown. That was rewarded shortly before full time with a penalty and the opportunity to pick and drive until the end. There were some late nerves when the Chiefs had one last chance to snatch the game, but they knocked on again in attack. The story of their night really.
The Game Changer
There were several moment that could have been pivotal, but none that really stood out. Winning that penalty with two minutes to go all but sealed it for the Force.
The G&GR MotM
It was a huge effort from the Force pack and the midfield, but nobody shone more than old fella with the 7 on his back. Hodgo was absolutely titanic tonight.
No stand out Wallaby style performance, but Godwin and Cotterell both further enhanced their reputations.
Force: 18 (Hodgson 2 tries; Ebersohn conv; Ebersohn 2 pens) defeated Chiefs: 15 (Cruden 4 pens; Anscome 1 pen)
Yellow cards: Jamie Mackintosh
Refereee: Lourens van der Merwe