Olowofela hat-trick puts 14-man Force into play-offs
The Western Force have qualified for the Super Rugby AU semifinals for the first time in their 16-year history after a Jordan Olowofela hat-trick inspired them to a stunning 30-27 victory over the Queensland Reds in Perth.
The Force trailed 7-21 late in the first half of Friday’s match, but sparked by Olowofela’s heroics, the home side hit the lead in the 74th minute despite being down to 14 men.
The end of the match was epic, with the Reds twice turning down a penalty straight in front of the posts in order to go for the win.
The Force held firm, winning the final scrum of the match after the siren before kicking the ball out to secure the win.
The result means the Force finish third, and they will take on the Brumbies in a semifinal.
The winner of that will meet the Reds in the grand Final.
The Melbourne Rebels, who take on the NSW Waratahs in Sydney on Saturday, now have no hope of making the semifinals.
The Force suffered a huge blow before the match when Irish legend Rob Kearney, who was due to return from an adductor injury, was ruled out.
Then after just 81 seconds, Force centre Tevita Kuridrani was yellow carded for a dangerous tip tackle on Hunter Paisami.
Three minutes later Paisami scored the opening try after busting through several Force defenders and stretching his hand forward to touch down.
The Force stole a try back in the eighth minute despite the numerical disadvantage, with Olowofela snaring an intercept and running 52 metres to touch down.
But with less than a minute before Kuridrani was due to return to the field, Reds prop Taniela Tupou produced a try for the highlights reel.
Tupou busted through two Force tacklers, got up from the ground and busted through two more tacklers in a 20-metre charge towards the line.
The Force was dealt another blow in the 23rd-minute when wing Toni Pulu was yellow-carded for an accumulation of team penalties.
The penalty count read 6-1 at that point, and the Reds crossed in the next play after a neat inside pass from scrumhalf Tate McDermott put wing Filipo Daugunu into space for the try.
Trailing 21-7 things looked bleak for the Force, but their hopes were revived through a Domingo Miotti penalty in the 34th minute and a try to hooker Feleti Kaitu’u five minutes later, reducing the margin to just six points at half-time.
The Force received another boost one minute into the second half when Reds wing Jordan Petaia was yellow carded for taking out Olowofela in the air.
Olowofela crossed for his second try in the 47th minute, but the Reds still led by a point after Miotti missed the conversion.
The margin was still one point when Force lock Jeremy Thrush was yellow carded in the 68th minute, handing O’Connor an easy three points and reducing the home side to 14 men.
But there was another twist to come, with Olowofela running on to a superb grubber ball from Richard Kahui to score his third try in the 74th minute.
Miotti nailed the clutch conversion from near the sideline, giving the Force a three-point buffer that they defiantly held on to for the rest of the match.
For the Western Force
Tries: Olowofela 3, Kaitu’u
Cons: Miotti 2
Pens: Miotti 2
For the Reds
Tries: Paisami, Tupou, Daugunu
Cons: O’Connor 3
Pens: O’Connor 2
Yellow cards: Tevita Kuridrani (Western Force, 2 – foul play, dangerous tackle), Toni Pulu (Western Force, 22 – repeated infringements, offside), Jordan Petaia (Reds, 41 – foul play, playing an opponent in the air), Jeremy Thrush (Western Force, 68 – foul play, playing the scrumhalf)
Western Force: 15 Jack McGregor, 14 Toni Pulu, 13 Tevita Kuridrani, 12 Kyle Godwin (captain), 11 Jordan Olowofela, 10 Domingo Miotti, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Brynard Stander, 7 Kane Koteka, 6 Tim Anstee, 5 Sitaleki Timani, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Greg Holmes, 2 Feleti Kaitu’u, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Angus Wagner, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Fergus Lee-Warner, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Richard Kahui, 23 Jake Strachan.
Reds: 15 Bryce Hegarty, 14 Jordan Petaia, 13 Hunter Paisami, 12 Hamish Stewart, 11 Filipo Daugunu, 10 James O’Connor, 9 Tate McDermott, 8 Harry Wilson, 7 Fraser McReight, 6 Liam Wright (captain), 5 Lukhan Salakaia-Loto, 4 Angus Scott-Young, 3 Taniela Tupou, 2 Brandon Paenga-Amosa, 1 Feao Fotuaika.
Replacements: 16 Alex Mafi, 17 Richie Asiata, 18 Zane Nonggorr, 19 Ryan Smith, 20 Seru Uru, 21 Kalani Thomas, 22 Josh Flook, 23 Ilaisa Droasese.
Referee: Damon Murphy
Assistant referees: Graham Cooper, Reuben Keane
TMO: Brett Cronan