Nathan Charles capitalised on a strong run from Brynard Stander to score the try that secured the Western Force a crucial 30-20 win over the Reds in Perth that keeps them in strong contention for a place in the Finals Series of Vodacom Super Rugby.
The Force were in control for most of the first half but then in the third quarter of the game it was as if they were doing their best to lose the game. From being 17-3 up, a combination of poor discipline, which led to penalties and to looseforward Hugh McEniman being yellow carded in the 28th minute, and defensive mindset, the home team steadily surrendered the initiative to a Reds team that fought back to 20-all with 12 minutes to go.
But the Mike Harris penalty that drew the scores level and gave the Reds a sniff in a game where they had been dominated for most of the way seemed to inspire the Force, who responded to the wake-up call by forcing a penalty that Jayden Hayward kicked to reclaim the lead just two minutes later.
Being ahead with 10 minutes to go seemed to give the Force confidence, and Force captain Matt Hodgson pounced on a long lineout throw inside his own 22 and Stander, on as a replacement, scorched up the middle channel to turn defence into attack. An inside pass put Charles into space and the sight of green grass and no defenders in front of him injected the pace that he needed to run the last 25 to 30 metres for the score.
The Hayward conversion made it a 10 point lead and that was the ball game, but it was a poor game and the Force showed vulnerabilities that don’t bode well for them if they do make it into the Finals Series, which they will achieve if they beat the Brumbies in their final league match next week.
The first 20 minutes was perhaps their best 20 minutes of the season and they raced into a big lead, but once McEniman was carded for connecting his knee into Ben Lucas while the Reds flyhalf was on the ground, the momentum shifted ever so slightly, with centre Samu Karevi scoring the try that cut the deficit at halftime to just seven points (17-10).
The Force continued to enjoy territorial dominance in the early part of the second half, but they seemed to lack ambition and just seemed content to keep the Reds pinned in their own territory rather than searching for the coup de grace. They weren’t helped though by a poor goalkicking performance from Jayden Hayward, who failed to nail a relatively easy kick that would have put his team back onto a more than converted try buffer.
Hayward nearly butchered the first Force try, which was eventually scored by Nick Cummins, who may have been playing his last game as he prepares apparently for a possible move to Japan for unspecified family reasons. Hayward initially took the wrong option by failing to use an overlap looming on his left just metres out from the line, but when the ball came back off the recycle Cummins still had enough space to wriggle over for the try.
The conversion made it 7-3 after Mike Harris had put the Reds on the board after seven minutes, with Cummins’ first touch of the ball off the restart after that penalty being what ignited the attack that eventually led to the wing’s try.
It was all the Force for the next while, with Hayward making it 10-3 after 14 minutes by adding another penalty and then centre Chris Tuatara-Morrison made the break that led to an excellent try completed by No 8 Ben McCalman to put the home team 14 points clear.
The Reds’ first try-scorer, Karevi, was their most dangerous player in their fightback, repeatedly breaking through at the back, but the forwards also became more inspired for a while, perhaps motivated by the extensive needle that crept into the game. There were numerous off the ball incidents and the game was quite tempestuous after halftime, with the referee having to repeatedly talk to the players, who often told him about incidents they felt the TMO should be looking at.
The lip that the Force had been giving the Reds all night faded away when replacement front-ranker Albert Anea dropped in for a try off an impressive rolling maul, and the Reds were suddenly pumped as the found themselves in a competitive place in a game they had been out of for so long. A penalty in front of the posts was kicked by Harris to bring the scores level, but that was when the Force recovered and secured the win that puts them level with the Brumbies on 40 points on the log table with one match to come.
Force - Tries: Nick Cummins, Ben McCalman, Nathan Charles. Conversions: Jayden Hayward (3). Penalties: Hayward (3).
Reds - Tries: Samu Kerevi, Albert Anae. Conversions: Mike Harris (2). Penalties: Harris (2).