Western Force have won their first game in New Zealand and signalled their Super 14 finals intentions with a stirring 27-17 victory over the Blues at North Harbour Stadium in Albany.
With the loss of playmaker Nick Evans after just thirty minutes denting the Blues’ chances, the Force still had to battle back from a ten-point halftime deficit after tries from the home side’s Tony Woodcock and Anthony Tuitavake.
But brilliantly led by Matt Giteau, the Force wore down the Auckland defence, scoring 20 unanswered points with tries to Richard Brown and Tamaiti Horua taking the Perth side to victory.
Tim Clarke writes on Foxsport that the Force were subjected to a torrid opening quarter, when they also missed eight tackles but somehow only conceded seven points.
They came through prop Woodcock, who as part of an All Black front row, was on the end of the last of a series of short drives which the Force defence could not stop.
The Force’s resistance should have given Giteau his side’s first points but the Wallaby star inexplicably missed a penalty from almost in front 20m out after Benson Stanley’s high tackle.
But from the resultant kick off, Force persistence with ball in hand paid off, with Cameron Shepherd slicing through for his second try of the year.
What started as a comfortable Blues afternoon then got decidedly harder, when Super 14 top scorer Evans was forced off after an earlier collision with teammate Nick Williams.
But his absence had little immediate impact, with Ben Atiga proving an able kicking replacement, slotting a penalty at the first attempt to give his side back the lead.
Standing in at fly-half Isaia Toeava’s line break and pass to the hugely impressive Tuitavake gave the home side a 10-point buffer at the main break.
But with John Mitchell ringing the changes – James Stannard replaced by Chris O’Young and Scott Staniforth moving into the centres – the Force gained the upper hand as the game progressed.
Troy Flavell’s dangerous tackle on O’Young gave Giteau the chance to reduce the deficit to seven.
Giteau’s leadership then came to the fore, driving the Perth side on constantly by boot and hand.
Eleven phases lead to the fly-half’s cut out pass for Brown to cross, and when the Wallaby’s conversion tied up the scores, the Blues’ nerves were exposed.
Another Giteau penalty gave the Force the lead, and with replacement prop Pek Cowan and Horua aggressive at the breakdown, the man born in Nelson produced the close range charge to cap an historic Force afternoon.Tweet