After a tumultuous week, the Emirates Western Force dominated most areas and won a thrilling Super 14 match against the Cheetahs 16-15 in Bloemfontein on Saturday morning.
Rugby WA reports that the game started in hot conditions, but that soon turned to rain in the second half as both sides produced desperate performances as they searched for their first wins of the season.
It all came down to the very last play of the game when the Force managed to gain a penalty within kicking range for Matt Giteau. His kick sailed through the uprights to give the Force a tremendous win.
Giteau was the undoubted star and showed just how he good he can be at No. 10, with every facet of his game top notch and he scored all 16 of the Force’s points.
Despite being well down in the possession count, the Cheetahs worked tirelessly and finished with 118 tackles to the Force’s 50, but their encouraging efforts in the first two weeks of the season still see them winless.
With Matt Henjak sacked throughout the week, James Stannard was left to debut and start in his place at halfback, while fullback Cameron Shepherd was out with a knee injury leaving Drew Mitchell to step into his place from the wing.
Sam Wykes also made his debut at blindside flanker and Troy Takiari his first start at tighthead prop.
Wykes showed some tremendous signs with his athleticism and pace, while Mitchell showed he is a more than adequate fullback replacement for Shepherd in his 50th Super Rugby appearance.
Force captain Nathan Sharpe was delighted after the match with the win and to be on track for a good result on the South African trip.
“The guys stuck to their guns and the boys took the right options, held their patience and finally we got the penalty. It’s heartbreaking for the Cheetahs I’m sure, but we played some good football and it’s just reward for the boys,” Sharpe said.
“We are looking forward to this season and to get off the mark in South Africa is good. We are five points after two games on a tough road trip, so we are pretty happy.”
The loss was tough to swallow for Cheetahs captain Juan Smith, but he was happy with his team’s effort.
“We were a little unlucky at the end, but that’s rugby. We have to get up again and play the Blues next weekend. We played a lot better than last week and are happy with our performance, but we didn’t get the win,” Smith said.
“We played good defence for 80 minutes and that’s the positive thing that we can take into next week.”
The game got off to an exciting start with both sides scoring a try within the opening 10 minutes.
The Cheetahs crossed first at the six-minute mark catching the Force off-guard. Fullback Hennie Daniller bullocked his way over the try line and Jacques-Louis Potgieter converted.
The Force hit back just three minutes later when Mitchell, Stannard and Sharpe set up Giteau to glide across the line as only he can. He converted to level scores at seven.
Ten minutes later and the Cheetahs were penalised for playing the ball while on the ground. Giteau had no trouble converting from close range to put the visitors up by three.
Despite dominating for much of the 20 minutes leading into it, the Cheetahs scrum worked wonders
and then Heinrich Brussouw was able to breakaway for a try at the 28-minute mark.
Fifteen minutes into the second half and the boot of Giteau put the Force back in front 13-12 after a penalty. It came from Conrad Barnard being penalised for coming on as a replacement before being cleared to do so by the referee.
Barnard then made up for his earlier mistake by converting an offside penalty with 63 minutes gone to put the Cheetahs back in front 15-13.
Mitchell then crossed the line with the ball in hand with 72 minutes gone, but the video referee could not determine if it was a try. With 80 minutes gone, Barnard missed a penalty attempt giving the Force one more opportunity and they forced a penalty.
Giteau’s kick was good and the Force got on the winner’s list for 2008 and handed the Cheetahs their second straight heartbreaking loss to begin the season.
The Force remains in South Africa for one more week to face the Lions next Saturday morning (Australian time) in Johannesburg, while the Cheetahs remain in Bloemfontein to host the Blues.
Tries: Daniller, Brussouw
Conversions: Potgieter 1
Penalties: Barnard 1
Emirates Western Force 16
Conversions: Giteau 1
Penalties: Giteau 3