It was a tough afternoon for the Force facing the defending champions the Crusaders, closing out their final game in New Zealand with a 35-point loss in Canterbury.
Bit of dew lined Orangetheory Stadium yet the Force looked to take advantage of the Crusaders, who came off a loss to the Chiefs last weekend.
The men in black and gold welcomed a familiar face back in their squad as Wallaby Isi Naisarani made his return in the #8 jersey donning Force colours for the first time since 2017.
It was a great start from the Force as they opened the match playing with pace, showcasing Aussie 7’s star Max Burey making his Super Rugby Pacific debut.
Burey was able to get his first points early, nailing a penalty in the first three minutes to give his side an early lead.
Crusaders were quick to respond, instantly putting the Force under pressure to score their first try of the game through Brodie McAlister.
The Force pressure pushed back the Crusaders, eventually accruing a penalty which put the visitors back in the lead with Burey nailing his second goal at the sixteen-minute mark.
The Crusaders were dominant at set piece time, which led them towards another try as McAlister scored his second off the back of a rolling maul to retake the lead.
Force started to regain some momentum ahead of halftime and started to open some opportunities up in their attacking 22.
After taking a beautiful exit kick Issak Fines-Leleiwasa sparked the Force into action, which led to some beautiful phases of attacking rugby pushing the Crusaders defence.
However, after a quick counterattack, the Crusaders stunned the Force with another try just before halftime through Macca Springer, putting the score at 22-6.
McAlister quickly secured his hattrick at the start of the second half giving the Force a lot of work to do to get back in the fight.
The Crusaders continued to charge on and took advantage of their dominating set plays leading to Fainga’anuku’s second try.
The Force were able to relieve the pressure as their impact players entered the game with Bowen Abra, Feleti Kaitu’u and Jackson Pugh all getting a run.
The Crusaders scored another two tries, which drew their lead out of reach from the Force showing a clinical style of play that made them Super Rugby champions.
To give his side some relief, local boy and Palmyra product Jackson Pugh crossed the line after a quick tap from Fines-Leleiwasa.
The Force defended well and tried to keep playing after the siren, eventually conceding and kicking the ball out to end a hard-fought match up with a score of 48-13.
While head coach Simon Cron was disappointed in his side’s performance, he didn’t let the score take away from the Force’s improvement seen across the season.
“We’ve definitely gotten better, especially when it comes to our discipline, however we’ve got to push for more turnovers we’ve been defending a lot and need to get more of the ball in our hands,” Cron said.
“Max (Burey) had a good debut, it was baptism by fire for him. I thought he was very reactive, he was engaged and moving around the park a lot. We just need to put some more chess pieces around him to allow him to be better.”
Captain Michael Wells also was impressed by the return on Wallaby Isi Naisarani.
“Isi did his best tonight, I’d like to see him have more of the ball in his hands and carry it more,” Wells added.
“We tried a bit of that tonight. We are trying to get a better base at the breakdown to allow a faster ball and him to run onto It rather than wait.
“But it’s his first game back after returning from injury, so he’s on the up and up, and I think we are going to see more of him soon.”
Tries: Brodie McAlister 3, Leicester Fainga’anuku 2, Macca Springer 2, Codie Taylor
Conversion: Richie Mo’unga 3
Tries: Jackson Pugh
Conversion: Max Burey
Penalties: Max Burey 2