Goal kicking proved a critical factor as the Force went down 24-31 against the Queensland Reds in a pulsating Super Rugby AU clash at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane.
The teams scored four tries each in undoubtedly the best match of the tournament so far, but the accurate boot of Reds flyhalf James O’Connor made the difference as he kicked four conversions and a decisive drop goal in the final two minutes. By contrast, the Force missed two conversions.
The Reds led 21-19 at halftime after a frantic first half that produced six tries.
The Force started with purpose and raced into a 14-0 lead after 15 minutes, effectively using the width of the field to create two tries within the space of 4 minutes. The first was scored by fullback Jack McGregor, who went over in the corner after some silky handling by the backs, and the second by wing Byron Ralston who scored in the opposite corner after number eight Brynard Stander joined the line to give the Force the extra man.
Scrumhalf Ian Prior converted both scores but left the contest with an injury soon after. He was replaced by talented youngster Jacob Abel, who was impressive in his second Super Rugby outing.
The Reds hit back immediately, dominating possession and scoring three tries in quick succession to lead 21-14 after 26 minutes. Hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa, fullback Jock Campbell, and prop Taniela Tupou scored tries with O’Connor converting.
With the Reds controlling play and pushing for a fourth try in the closing stages of the half, Force winger Byron Ralston intercepted a pass in front of his own posts and ran 80 metres to score the Force’s third and his second of the night. Jono Lance’s conversion was unsuccessful after it was charged down; the Reds took a two-point lead into the break.
Within six minutes of the restart, the Reds extended their lead to nine points after wing Filipo Daugunu showed great stepping ability to score his team’s fourth try. O’Connor’s conversion moved the score to 28-19.
The Reds were reduced to 14 men with ten minutes to play, when centre Hunter Paisami was yellow carded for an illegal tackle on opposite number Kyle Godwin inside his 22. The Force opted for the lineout from the resulting penalty and were rewarded with a try by hard-working replacement prop Andrew Ready after a well-controlled maul across the Reds line. Lance’s conversion struck the upright leaving the Force four points adrift at 24-28.
With two minutes to play and the Force under pressure in front of their posts, O’Connor calmly slotted a drop goal to extend his team’s lead to seven points. From the restart, the Force swept into Reds territory looking for a score that could have sent the game into added time. A knock-on at the breakdown put paid to their efforts, leaving the Force to settle for a bonus points from the defeat.
It was a much-improved performance that should give coach Tim Sampson much to build on for the rest of the tournament.
Western Force – Tries: Jack McGregor, Byron Ralston (2), Andrew Ready. Conversions: Ian Prior (2).
Reds – Tries: Brandon Paenga-Amosa, Jock Campbell, Taniela Tupou, Filipo Daugunu. Conversions: James O’Connor (4). Drop goals: 1.
Western Force: 1 Angus Wagner, 2 Feleti Kaitu’u, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 5 Fergus Lee-Warner, 6 Henry Stowers, 7 Tevin Ferris, 8 Brynard Stander (vice-captain), 9 Ian Prior (captain), 10 Jono Lance,11 Brad Lacey, 12 Nick Jooste, 13 Marcel Brache, 14 Byron Ralston, 15 Jack McGregor.
Bench: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Ollie Atkins, 20 Ollie Callan, 21 Jacob Abel, 22 Henry Taefu, 23 Kyle Godwin.