The Western Force have drawn blood for just the second time this season with an epic win over the ACT Brumbies in Canberra. The dying minutes of the match saw the lead see-saw between the two teams, before David Smith put the result beyond doubt with a try in the 77th minute. Smith broke both his try-scoring drought this season and the hearts of the local fans with his brace of tries, while providing the Force fans some much needed respite.
The match lived up to expectations in the first half with neither team able to make the most of their opportunities. The Brumbies threatened on numerous occasions, particularly in the 10 channel, however they were constantly let down by wayward passing. They had the scoreboard ticking over with a try, a conversion and a penalty from Matt Giteau taking them out to a 10-0 lead. The Force managed to stay within reach from a James OíConnor try after Rory Sidey did a fantastic job of hacking through a loose Brumby pass. The conversion was successful and the two teams entered the shed with 3 points separating them; the Brumbies enjoying 60% possession but just 40% territory for the half.
The Brumbies scored the first points in the second half courtesy of Matt Giteau, yet the Force hit back immediately with yet another try sparked from a dropped Brumby ball. The successful conversion gave the Force a slender one point lead. Neither team was able to take control coming into the final quarter with discipline letting the Force down while handling and an inability to win line-out ball harried the Brumbies. Nathan Sharpe was immense in defusing the Brumbiesí ability to attack and destroying Anthony Heagartyís confidence. Both teams added 2 penalties each to bring the score out to 19-20. In the final minutes the Force showed how much they have matured and learnt from the Blues clash earlier in the season and took the attack to the Brumbies. A 5-metre scrum won by Nathan Sharpe saw David Smith cross the chalk for the second time. James OíConnorís conversion putting the game beyond doubt. The Force won 27-19.
It might not have been the prettiest game of rugby but a win is a win is a win. The Force have put the disappointing losses to the Rebels and Waratahs behind them and played a solid 80 minutes of rugby.
The game did seem like a contest of who could gift the opposition the win and the Brumbies definitely outclassed the Force in that department. For all their clever play and dangerous running they could not sustain an attack and looked a bit like they had just given up in the second half. You had to feel sorry for the Brumbies with half a team on the sidelines with injury they were always going to struggle through this one.
There are a couple of positives the Brumbies can take out of this, despite becoming the Australian conference chumps after losing every one of the first round of clashes. Their scrum was very solid and kept the Force under a lot of pressure. They also attacked incredibly well when they werenít mincing it up. There were a lot of half-breaks and a lot of metres gained both out wide and through the inside channels. Lealiifanoís run for Giteauís try was sublime. If they can tighten that up a bit and replace Josh Valentine with a better quality halfback, they will start running in tries left right and centre.
For the Force it was great to see the team bringing the game up a notch in the last 20 minutes rather than having a fade out. Our defence was generally good and largely responsible for the pressure that lead to a lot of the Brumbies errors. We really played to our strengths: kicking for territory and pressuring the line-out. It was really good to see a more committed kick-chase, although we still are guilty of some aimless kicking.
Michael Hooper was pretty impressive. For a little guy he was very slippery. Although the Force won the battle of the breakdown, he did earn his team a fair few penalties. Dan Palmer also had a great game in the scrums. From the Force I thought Nick Cummins furthered his Wallaby aspirations. He was like a homing pigeon to fumbled ball and showed a strength that we donít see much of in Wallaby wingers. Probably the biggest surprise package was Pat Dellit. He ran the ball well, tackled well and has a very nice boot. It might be tough to replace him if Shepherd is fit for next weekend.
Did themselves no favours:
I think that 2010 was the last time Josh Valentine will wear a Wallabies jersey. He did play the ball quickly and was in no small part responsible for the Brumbiesí proliferation of the dropsies. Mark Chisholm yet again failed to impose his gargantuan figure to useful effect and was owned in the line-outs by Nathan Sharpe. Ben Alexander also seems to have lost his fizz. James OíConnor seems to have lost his kicking mojo. It hasnít been great in previous weeks and he missed a further two pressure kicks, admittedly long range, this afternoon. Although only on for a short time, Pek Cowan also didnít have a good game and was responsible for one of Giteauís late penalties.
Man of the Match:
You canít really go past Nathan Sharpe here. Last weekend our line-out spluttered but this weekend Sharpe was back to his old self. Solid on our own throws. Disrupting their throws. Generally being a tower of strength around the park. 140 games and still playing like a spring chicken. First guy picked along with David Pocock, Quade Cooper, Kurtley Beale and Tatafu Polota-Nau in the Wallabies line-up.
Western Force game rating:
Any win for the Force is gold. We arenít at that point yet where we can criticize a win and we certainly shouldnít in a tough away derby. It was the best team performance weíve seen in weeks and there are plenty enough positives to take from it. We will probably need to lift another level against a deflated albeit dangerous Bulls side, but we are moving in the right direction at least. B+.