The Western Force have come from behind to win in New Zealand for the second week running, battling back in the second half to beat the Highlanders 36-28 at Queenstown.
Foxsports reports that just as they did last week in their breakthrough win over the Blues, the Force strangled Kiwi opposition in the final 20 minutes, scoring 16 unanswered points to record a fourth away win in an increasingly impressive season.
And despite some controversial calls from referee Mark Lawrence, including denying a legitimate Scott Staniforth try, Cross’ intercept and a perfect kicking display from Matt Giteau and Cameron Shepherd sent the Force back to Perth for three home games in high spirits.
After putting the full stop on another barnstorming display with a 40m gallop under the posts to confirm the win, Cross said the winless Highlanders had tested the Force to the limit.
“In the second half they really threw it around, put us on the back foot and played some good footy,” Cross said.
“Thankfully we got it back together, got a few lucky bounces.
“We beat the Blues last week so we were pretty confident coming into this game, but we knew how desperate the Highlanders would be.
“We got away with it, and it was pretty lucky in the end.”
Tries to young lock Tom Hockings and Richard Brown – his third in three games – had put the Force in charge, but second half responses from Paul Williams and Fetuu Vainikolo had the home side eight points up with 18 minutes left.
That should have been less after Staniforth’s lunge to the line was ruled illegal by Lawrence, despite tackler Hoani MacDonald letting go of the winger as he scrambled over.
But after Cross took advantage of another strange ruling from Lawrence, who rapidly ended a Highlanders advantage following a knock on, Giteau and Shepherd nervelessly converted three penalties to elevate the Force ahead of the Blues and Hurricanes on the ladder.
“If anything, I think we made it pretty tough for ourselves. The Highlanders have come out and they have just been an unlucky side throughout the whole season,” Giteau said.
“It was a tough game. We did not play too well but we’re still very happy to get the win.
“Those (refereeing decisions) aside we did not play well enough, or as well we would have liked to.”
Confusion at the start over whether it was Nathan Sharpe’s 100th appearance in Super rugby – it was later confirmed that will come next week following a miscalculation in the Super 14 media guide – was mirrored at the end, when the dazed lock had to be helped off the field following a high tackle.
And as well as getting his captain fit, John Mitchell will also hope Chris O’Young’s shoulder injury will clear up this week, after a less than impressive defensive display from replacement James Stannard.
But with home games against the Stormers, Bulls and Waratahs to come in the next three weeks, Giteau said the trip back to Perth was likely to be a sweet one.
“We are building momentum, and we have got a lot of home games now so we are really happy,” Giteau said.Tweet