Western Force failed to counter the first-half loss of playmaker Matt Giteau, going down 17-12 to the NSW Waratahs in their Super 14 clash in Perth.
After the playmaker was stretchered off following a sickening clash with Sam Norton-Knight, 18-year-old Waratahs centre Rob Horne took advantage to streak over for a try on debut.
Tim Clarke writes for the AAP that the visitors were 10-9 up at half-time but suffered their own blow when captain Phil Waugh limped off midway through the second period with a knee injury.
Cameron Shepherd potted three penalties after taking over Giteau’s kicking duties to put the Force ahead but Lachie Turner’s late try elevated the Waratahs to third place on the Super 14 ladder.
With individual clashes of Wallaby significance all over the field, the first contribution of note came from Giteau’s flyhalf rival Kurtley Beale, whose kick and chase led to an early penalty which he converted himself.
After that setback, the Force dominated possession, battering the Waratahs’ defence for 17 successive phases at one stage before a knock on gave the visitors their first psychological win.
The next incident, on 20 minutes, was not of the Waratahs’ making – when Giteau’s night was ended by a brutal accidental collision with Norton-Knight’s hip bone in a tackle.
After being placed in the recovery position by Lote Tuqiri, Giteau did not move as the Waratahs hammered the Force line.
But while the Force did keep the Tahs out, their vice-captain was not able to return – the motorised cart wheeling off the superstar as he gave a thumbs up to relieve the fear of serious injury.
With Lachlan MacKay on as a replacement, the Waratahs immediately went for the throat and, after Tom Carter broke, Horne followed on his shoulder to make the perfect start to his Super 14 career.
After making a hash of his first penalty attempt, Shepherd made amends soon afterwards – and Carter’s departure with a shoulder injury was followed by Shepherd’s second penalty to bring the deficit back to one at half time.
Giteau’s groggy stroll up the touchline lifted the spirits of the Force fans further, with the second period starting with a Scott Staniforth intercept that could have led to a Nick Cummins break if not for a dropped pass.
After Shepherd’s penalty attempt for the lead rebounded off post and crossbar, the influential injuries were evened up by Waugh limping off on 53 minutes.
And with the Force dominating possession as they did in the first half another offside penalty – this time against Adam Freier – did allow Shepherd to put the home side in front.
With time running out, and the Force launching wave after wave of pressure, the Tahs much vaunted defence held firm.
And with seven minutes to go, the sucker punch was landed, a rare overlap finding its way to the impressive Tuqiri, whose chip kick rebounded off Shepherd’s boot into the arms of a grateful Turner.
Despite a desperate last push from the Force, Turner’s intercept under his own posts maintained the Waratahs unbeaten record against the Force – and their push for the semi-finals.
Waugh said the Waratahs had made the welcome win hard for themselves.
“We did well at (taking our chances) but field position was a worry and possession, but we got the win.
“We have got a tough back end of the tournament, so this is a big win in the context of the season.”
Force skipper Nathan Sharpe said it was another night of missed opportunities for his side.
“I though we were just going to get over the line there at the end, again,” Sharpe said.
“You never say any try is lucky, but (Turner’s) was against the run of play. Shep has chipped it forward and it has gone straight into his breadbasket.
“A disappointing night in terms of the result but we certainly executed the game plan for the majority.
“We just lacked a bit of finishing, we played well … but we will look at back at a lot of missed opportunities I think.”Tweet