Force upset the Crusaders again
The Western Force continued their impressive form against the Crusaders in Perth, recording a hard-earned and deserved 16-14 win on Saturday.
The New Zealand franchise has won just once in their five visits to Perth and this result will put another huge dent in their play-off hopes.
All the early enthusiasm and entertainment came from the Western Force, who outplayed the Crusaders in every facet of the game.
It appeared the Crusaders were feeling the after-effects of their bruising two-week tour in South Africa, as they simply could not stay with the early pace set by the home team. It also didn't help that the Crusaders coughed up the ball almost every time they attempted to launch a raid into the Force half.
It was not till the 16th minute that the Crusaders managed to produce a threatening attack inside the Force half. As was to be expected, the men from Christchurch slowly worked their way back into the game.
The Force continued to frustrate the Crusaders with their in-your-face play and won most of their crucial turnovers at the breakdown – including a match-winning turnover after the full-time hooter had sounded.
The Crusaders' scrum had a clear edge and even though the most penalised player in the competition, Wyatt Crockett, was again pinged at the set piece, the visitors later got their own back with a crucial scrum penalty just five metres from their own line early in the second half.
Also, after initially struggling with their line-outs, the Crusaders stole some crucial second-half ball on the home team's throws.
And with the visitors also seeing more of the ball after the break, they managed to squeeze the home team with their ball-in-hand, side-to-side game.
However, the visitors remained their own worst enemies with some below par handling, often coughing up the ball at crucial stages on attack.
But credit must go to the Force for their defensive resolve – that is what won them the game.
Sam Norton-Knight got the Force off to the perfect start, as he found a whole in the Crusaders' defensive line just five metres out and then stretched over the line in the tackle – the try coming after some strong phase-play by the forwards. Jayden Hayward added the conversion for a 7-0 lead after just four minutes.
Hayward slotted a penalty in the 12th minute to make it 10-0, as the home team continued to set the tempo for the game.
Eventually the Crusaders found some semblance of rhythm and a penalty at the breakdown saw Tyler Bleyendaal kick a penalty to open his team's account.
Showing patience and that renowned ability to keep the ball through multiple phases saw Luke Romano go over for his team's first try – hooker Corey Flynn making the bust that eventually exposed the Force's defence. Bleyendaal couldn't add the extras, but at 8-10 they had sounded a warning that they were not simply going to roll over.
Hayward managed to give his team a bit of breathing space with a 25th-minute penalty, after a breakdown offence near halfway, and then made it 16-8 after yet another breakdown penalty at the 31-minute mark.
Romano again worked his way over the line in the 37th minute, but the call went to the TMO – who ruled that there was a forward pass in the build-up and the try was disallowed.
The visitors had one last run at the Force before the half-time break, but a monster hit from Ed Stubbs stopped a dangerous move inside the home team's 22.
Bleyendaal had the opening score of the second half, a penalty from right in front after a tackle infringement in the 48th minute.
Romano was denied by the TMO for a second time in the 56th minute, giving the Crusaders an attacking scrum five metres out. That became a penalty, which Bleyendaal turned into three points – 14-16 going into the final quarter.
With just over 10 minutes left on the clock Wyatt Crockett was again penalised, this time for incorrect entry at a tackle, but Hayward saw his attempt drop short under the crossbar.
Crockett was penalised twice more – once at a tackle and once at a scrum – but in the final minute the visitors won a scrum feed and one last chance to sneak a winner. However, the Force, who had tackled their hearts out throughout the match, won another crucial ruck turnover and with that the match.
Man of the match: Robbie Fruean and Ryan Crotty caused plenty of problems on attack, even though they were not always as accurate as they could have been, while Israel Dagg showed some of the magic that makes him such an impressive attacking player. Luke Romano, Owen Franks and Corey Flynn were the driving force in the engine room – Flynn, in particular, was impressive with his carries out wide. Romano carried strongly, taking his count for ball in hand runs into double figures and making well over 50 metres. winning all his own line-outs and making a good number of tackles. Richard Brown and Matt Hodgson were the catalysts for a much-improved Western Force team, while Sam Norton-Knight's selection at flyhalf also proved inspirational. Kyle Godwin may be the player with the highest tackle count for the Perth-based. However, Ed Stubbs – in his first Super Rugby start for the Force – put in some of the biggest hits of the weekend – on two occasions stopping what looked like certain tries. He was later joined by Patrick Dellit, also making crucial tackles. Defence is what won this match and that is why our award goes to Stubbs.
For the Western Force:
Pens: Hayward 3
For the Crusaders:
Pens: Bleyendaal 3
Western Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Alfie Mafi, 13 Junior Rasolea, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Ed Stubbs, 10 Sam Norton-Knight, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Richard Brown, 7 Matt Hodgson (captain), 6 Ben McCalman, 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Heath Tessmann, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Rory Walton, 19 Chris Alcock, 20 Mick Snowden, 21 Sias Ebersohn, 22 Patrick Dellit.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Tom Marshall, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Shane Christie, 6 George Whitelock (captain), 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Jordan Taufua, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Telusa Veainu, 22 Zac Guildford.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: James Leckie (Australia), Damien Mitchelmore (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)