The Western Force scored a thoroughly deserved 21-15 win over the Brumbies in Perth on Saturday that has added some clarity on how the teams will line up when the Vodacom Super Rugby Finals Series starts next weekend.
By tripping up in their last league game of the season, the Brumbies have left themselves in a position where they can’t finish higher than third.
In fact, as Australian conference winners, they will definitely finish third even though they end on the same number of log points as the Crusaders, which means they will host the sixth-placed Toyota Cheetahs in next weekend’s quarterfinal in Canberra, which at this stage looks likely to be played on the Sunday.
The Crusaders will play the Reds in the other match of the opening weekend in the knock-out phase.
So the only remaining end to be tied up in Super Rugby for 2013 with two matches of the league stage still to be played is who finishes first and who finishes second.
The Brumbies would have left the Bulls at least needing a bonus point from their later game against the Stormers at Newlands to ensure a place in the top two and a bye next week had they won and scored four tries.
They never looked like coming close in a game that started with the Brumbies kicking directly into touch from the kick-off.
For much of the game Jake White’s men looked like they had imbibed sleeping pills before kick-off. They always looked short of a gallop and also disorganised against a Western Force side that played with determination and attitude, and applied pressure on their opponents for most of the 80 minutes.
Knowing that the Brumbies would always kick the ball back, the Force played the right tactics by booting the ball into the Brumbies' half, and it was they who got what the Brumbies normally get right by playing most of the game in the right areas of the field.
The Brumbies made some mistakes that were nothing short of ridiculous, such as when flyhalf Matt Toomua fielded a missed Force penalty kick in his ingoal area and then, in his haste to get the game back on the go with two minutes to go and facing a six-point deficit, forgot to dot the ball down before throwing it forward to a fellow player to restart.
The referee spotted the mistake and awarded the Force a scrum put-in five metres from the line in what proved to be the last move of the game.
They won the ball and kicked it out and celebrated a rousing victory to finish off the season.
They could have won by much more than six points, and could well have been up 28-10 going into the last quarter hour of the game as they went over for a try off good interplay at a lineout near the Brumbies' line, only for the TMO not to be given the camera angles he felt he needed to be sure a try had been scored.
Off the angle I saw, it looked like there was downward pressure but it was ruled inconclusive, which then caused confusion as the Force were then awarded the put-in at a five-metre scrum.
It took a while to explain to the bemused Brumbies that while the try had been denied it was still the Force’s put-in. The Force ended up winning a penalty, but then missing an easily kickable attempt.
So it looked like they may be bottling it when in the 66th minute George Smith took a quick tap penalty and put Scott Fardy in for a try that put the Brumbies back in range at 21-15.
That was how the score remained for the rest of the match, but the long-suffering Force fans ended up spending the last minutes on the edge of their seats when they needn’t have been.
Both the Force’s first-half tries were the product of quick thinking from penalties (well, the second was a free kick).
Skipper Matt Hodgson went over for the first try in the 24th minute after the Force had been put in a good attacking position from a great kick and chase.
Hodgson initially looked as if he might be considering giving the ball to one of his place-kickers but he saw the opportunity, tapped and scored.
On the stroke of halftime it was Force scrumhalf Mathewson who saw a similar opportunity, and No 8 Ben McCalman was put over for the score that made it 14-3 to the Force at halftime.
Both tries were questionable in that the taps looked like they might not have been taken on the mark.
Big Force inside centre Junior Rasolea, normally a wing, was then on hand to take a good inside pass from wing Nic Cummings to score near the posts in the 49th minute.
The conversion made it 21-3 to the Force and they deserved that lead. But then began the semblance of a Brumbies fightback, with Tevita Kuridrani scoring a try that was converted by Christian Lealiifano to cut the deficit to 15 points.
The game was played on a field that was left wet by what was described as a massive downpour an hour before kick-off and it contributed to a stop-start affair that won’t be remembered as a great spectacle.
Force fans though will remember it much longer than Brumbies fans will.
Western Force – Tries: Matthew Hodgson, Ben McCalman, Junior Rasolea. Conversions: Jayden Hayward(3).
Brumbies – Tries: Tevita Kuridrani, Scott Fardy. Conversion: Christian Lealiifano. Penalty: Christian Lealiifano.