The Crusaders weathered a Western Force storm to maintain their unbeaten start to the Super 14 season, fighting back from a two try deficit to eventually win 29-24 in Perth.
In a match laden with free running, the Force scored four tries but were unable to keep out the Crusaders at the other end, conceding five – including the killer blow to Casey Laulala with 10 minutes to go.
Tim Clarke writes on Foxsports that while honours were even between five-eighth superstars Matt Giteau and Dan Carter – despite the Kiwi’s wayward kicking – the experience of Robbie Dean’s contenders eventually overcame the spirit of John Mitchell’s pretenders.
With both sides still with memories of their 23-23 draw at Subiaco two years ago, there was as much drama on show again, with the Force blasting out to a 12-point lead with 25 minutes to go.
But that was gobbled up within two minutes by tries to Ali Williams and Andy Ellis.
The Crusaders pack then chewed up time and possession and found the game-breaker by running back a wayward Giteau kick to put Laulala over.
The Force started in dominant fashion, apparently relishing the comforts of home after three weeks on the road, and Ryan Cross was immediately influential in the midfield.
Ten minutes of almost exclusive territorial advantage ended with a blindside move to send David Pocock over in the corner.
Immediately Carter responded, turning his first real possession into points by slipping Giteau’s tackle to canter under the posts.
And when Greg Somerville – nicknamed Yoda – used his force to bundle over, the Crusaders had wrestled control back to lead 12-5.
Cross though, was not done setting up more field position before taking Giteau’s pop pass to level the scores.
With turnovers starting to pop up on the blue side – one of them was ruthlessly exploited, with Scott Staniforth’s over the shoulder pass to Cross eventually leading to a Richard Brown score.
More turnovers ball almost gave the Force a fourth try before half time, with interplay between Scott Fava and Cam Shepherd halted by referee Willie Roos’ call for a forward pass.
But the five-point half time lead did become 12 when Drew Mitchell’s intercept set up Shepherd to put Lachie MacKay into space.
His sidestep fooled everyone, putting the former Waratah over for a emotional score after two years dogged by injury.
But the multiple champions showed all that class by demolishing the leads in a devastating three minute spell.
First a quick tap from the monstrous Williams saw him powered over and then, with the Force defence ragged, Mose Tuiali’i's touchline run fed Ellis inside.
With the scores level but Crusaders on top, Giteau’s clearance from behind his own goal line only fed the visitors numbers, and Steve Brett’s fingertip tap to free Laulala turned out to be the defining moment.Tweet