One week on from making their return to Super Rugby, the Western Force were taking on the Queensland Reds at Suncorp Stadium. The Force started brightly last week and did so again here, with Jack McGregor and Byron Ralston crossing in the opening 15 minutes. The Reds soon hit back and drew level through tries from Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Jock Campbell, before Taniela Tupou crossed from short range to put them ahead. The Reds had the chance to further their lead just before halftime, but Ralston intercepted James O’Connor’s pass and took it to the house, Filipo Daugunu charging down Jono Lance’s conversion to keep send the Reds into the break 21-19 ahead.
Daugunu extended the lead after the break with his 3ʳᵈ try in 3 games, but the Reds could not quite pull away on the scoreboard, with Liam Wright having a potential try disallowed by the TMO and Jock Campbell knocking on just short of the line. We were guaranteed an interesting end to the game as Hunter Paisani received a yellow card with just 10 minutes left for a tip tackle, and the Force kicked the penalty to the corner before Andrew Ready crossed from the resultant driving maul, Lance hitting the woodwork with his conversion to leave them needing a try. The Reds finished strongly though, with a period of pressure ending in a James O’Connor drop goal to make the score 31-24, before a strong defensive effort beyond the hooter forced an error from the Force to end the game.
Toeing the line
Losing Ian Prior just 20 minutes into the match was a big loss for the Force. As captain of the team and such an experienced scrum half, he is a key member of the team and hard to replace. As a kicker, he was 2/2, whereas Jono Lance failed to land either of his kicks after taking over kicking duties. When a player like that goes off, he will be hard to replace and sadly, young Jake Abel struggled to do so.
Now let me first make clear that as a former forward whose job was just to hit whatever was in front of him, I have a lot of respect for he amount of things a scrum half must be focusing on at the same time. However, Abel committed one of the cardinal sins of scrum half play in the second half: forgetting the laws of the game. Specifically in this case the one that says if the ball is on the try line at the back of a ruck, it is classed as out of the ruck. Unfortunately, Abel moved the ball back onto the line as he looked to prepare their exit strategy and it almost proved costly as Liam Wright dived in to dot the ball down. This isn’t even the first time Wright has done this in the tournament, so you would expect scrum halves to have been warned about this when facing the Reds. Luckily for Abel and the Force, Wright missed getting downward pressure on the ball with his leading hand and the officials decided that Abel did initiate downward pressure.
Abel is a young scrum half and will learn from this, but it just highlights the inexperience from a player who only made his Super Rugby debut last week. Assuming Prior is fit next week, the Force have to decide whether they keep Abel on the bench or look to bring in short-term signing and former Wallaby Nick Frisby in the hope that the extra experience helps the team turn their first home match of the tournament next week into their first win.
In both games so far, the Western Force have come flying out of the blocks and scored a couple of tries, only for the opposition to grow into the game during the second quarter. Last week, the Force struggled to get back in the game, but this week was a much more competitive affair, however there were some horrible lapses in defence that proved costly.
While it is clear that the Force are improving, it’s no massive surprise to me that they are taking some time to grow into the tournament. Following their axing from Super Rugby, they started competing in the newly-formed Indo Pacific Rugby Championship, now rebranded as Global Rapid Rugby. In this tournament, they have been playing 70 minute matches, so need to find the right balance between fighting hard and pacing themselves through a game. This is made harder by the quality of opposition, as they have suddenly started playing Super Rugby squads after taking on China Lions, Fijian Latui, Manuma Samoa, Malaysia Valke and South China Tigers – that’s a heck of a step up in competition!
Thankfully, the Force look to be improving by the week and while I think the Brumbies will be too strong of an opposition net weekend, a win could certainly be n the cards when they host the Melbourne Rebels in Round 4.
When writing about the Waratahs last week I highlighted how they did not have a good balance between strong ball carriers and more skilful/technical players. The Reds highlighted my point perfectly.
As well as having Taniela Tupou (who was absolutely fantastic) and Lukhan Salakaia-Loto in the pack gave them a good starting point, which was built on by the carrying of winger Chris Feauai-Sautia and direct lines of Paisani, while Jock Campbell looked assured at fullback. These carriers, combined with the footwork of Filipo Daugunu and technical nous of Liam Wright and Fraser McReight put the team in such a great position to succeed.
I do however think that the balance could be improved further. Paisani has found himself in the bin in 2 of the 3 matches due to poor tackle technique, while Hamish Stewart ha a quiet game in attack. Personally, I would reiterate my feeling that James O’Connor would improve the team by moving to centre, while with Campbell performing so well at 15, Bryce Hegarty could return to the starting XV at fly half. The fact that this back line can probably only get better is a scary thought!