A wonderfully clear warm day greeted the visiting Queensland Country side as they visited Perth to get their 2019 NRC campaign underway against the Western Force. The Force were out for revenge against the Queenslanders, having been bested the last time the two teams met, but it was Country who managed to put the first points on the board with a try to winger Joey Fittock. The Force answered almost immediately with a try to Heath Tessman off the back of a well executed rolling maul.
This set the tone for the day, with the teams trading tries each way throughout the highly energetic and fiercely fought match. This pattern of score and response was broken only broken in the first half by dynamic winger Filipo Dagunu, who managed to get himself a brace with back to back tries to give Country a two try buffer at 28 – 14. The try exchange then resumed through to half-time with the only difference between the sides being the enerring conversion kicking of Rohan Saifoloi. Country heading into the break with a 9 point lead, 35 – 26.
The end to end battle continued in the second half with both sides scoring freely but neither side able to put on consecutive scores. With 20 minutes left, Country had what appeared to be a healthy lead at 49 – 33 and both sides dipped deep into their benches to run out the match. Now it was the Forces turn to put on back to back tries for the first time in the match, with Nick Jooste and then Fergus Lee-Warner crossing to close the gap to just 4 points at 49 – 45 with under 10 minutes left in the match. The stage was set for a thrilling finish, and the players certainly delivered.
With the home crowd behind them and most of the possession, the Force were looking likely to break down the Country defence as they marched down-field when Dugunu, who had been involved in almost every successful attacking move for Country to that point, attempted an ill-advised intercept and was judged to have deliberately knocked the ball down, receiving 10 minutes in the bin and ending his game. Country now had to hold out with only 14 men on the park for around 7 minutes if they were to keep thier lead and take the win.
They couldn’t do it. After hammering away at Country’s defensive line for several phases, Andrew Deegan eventually found space with a beautifully weighted chip kick to the corner, chased down by new Force winger Jonah Placid to give the Force the lead for the first time in the match with only 4 minutes to play. An unsuccessful conversion attempt kept the margin at a single point, keeping the game well and truely alive. Country had one last attempt at the Force line to steal the match back, but were unable to break through. Eventually giving away a penalty for not releasing. Even then the game was not dead as the Force were required to take the resultant line-out after the siren, giving a last glimmer of hope to the Quuenslanders. The line-out was well won by the Force and the ball subsequently booted soundly into touch to bring a thrilling game of rugby to an end. The Western Force eventually victorious over Queensland Country, 50 – 49!
Queensland Country had the better of the play and looked to have the Force well in hand for 60 of the 80 minutes played. However it was the introduction of the bench players, the finishers, which swung the game back to the Force. A combination of experience from the likes of Ian Prior and Chris Alcock and possibly some better conditioning from coming out of a season of Rapid Rugby turned the game right at the end. The Force only led for 4 minutes, but it was the minutes that count.
Man of the Match
The battle of the 12s was possibly the highlight of the match, with both Hamish Stewart and Nick Jooste seeming to have found something with the positional switch to second receiver. Both forward packs had their moments, but it is difficult to pick out one individual forward that stood above the rest. Filipo Dagunu was immense for most of the match and would have been the obvious pick for MOTM, the Force defense seemingly powerless to stop his bullocking runs and deceptive feet. However the late yellow really tells against him, not least because the winning score occurred right in the spot he would otherwise have been defending. So the man of the match must go to Force 10 Andrew Deegan who guided the Force around the park all match before eventually landing the killer blow with the perfectly weighted chip kick into the corner.
Carlo Tizzano for the Force had a strong game and showed considerable potential, however the rising star from this match must be Tate McDermott from QLD Country. The feisty half-back looked dangerous all game. His passing was crisp and accurate and he covered the ground tirelessly. He played well, almost getting his side over the line in one of the toughest road trips in the NRC.
Western Force 50 (Jooste 2, Tessman, McGregor, Tizzano, Hardman, Lee-Warner, Placid tries. Deegan 5 conversions) defeated Queensland Country 49 (Daugunu 2, Fittock, James, Blyth, McDermott, Saifoli, tries. Saifoli 7 conversions)