The Western Force kept their hopes of reaching the Super Rugby play offs alive when they beat the Lions 29-19 with a bonus point in Perth.
The victory is the Force’s 8th from 12 matches which is a record for the club. The victory is also the Force’s sixth straight win over the Lions. The 2014 season has been the Force’s best ever season and they are now on a winning streak of five straight matches at home in Perth. The five point victory moves the Force into fourth place overall and second in the Australian conference behind the Waratahs who are three points ahead.
Western Force captain Matt Hodgson scored his second double of the season starting with the team’s first first try in the 35th minute and their fourth and final, bonus point try two minutes from fulltime. Three tries – two to the Force and one to the Lions – came in a frenzied last five minutes. Until then, the match had been notable for the solidity of the Lions defense. Though the Force had huge advantages of territory and possession, they struggled to score tries until the Lions were reduced to 14 men late in the first half.
The match looked like going either way at 15-12 to the Force after 75 minutes, before the late flurry of tries created a thrilling finish. Hodgson and centre Chris Tuatara-Morrison scored for the Force during that period while Elton Jantjies grabbed a try for the Lions who, even with a tiny share of ball, refused to give the game up for lost.
“I think at the back end of both halves we scored our tries,” Hodgson said. “I think we put a bit too much pressure on ourselves in the goal zone and weren’t patient enough and I think that showed.” The Johannesburg-based Lions led 9-3, with three penalties to Marnitz Boshoff, after 35 minutes until the Force scored two tries against 14 men in the late stages of the first half.
Lions prop Corne Fourie was sent to the sin bin in the 34th for a shoulder charge and, in his absence, the Force scored 12 points from tries to Hodgson and Jayden Hayward to take a 15-9 lead to halftime. That was the only period, until the late avalanche of scoring, in which the Force were able to impose any real strain on a rigid Lions defense.
Though they tried attacking up the middle, with effective rolling mauls, and occasionally out wide where winger Nick Cummings ran strongly, the Force were unable to unlock a defense which was stiff and unyielding. Cummings had a try disallowed in the 45th for a technical obstruction and replacement Zac Holmes was held up in the 73rd.
The defence then finally cracked for the first time in 35 minutes to allow a try by Tuatara-Morrison and Hodgson barged over just before the fulltime siren. Jantjies scored between those tries, pulling the Lions back into the match at 22-19, but they at last succumbed to their fourth straight loss on their tour to Australia and New Zealand. “It was a tough one for us but I’m proud of the boys,” Lions captain Warren Whitely said.
“I think we showed a lot of guts. Again it’s the small things. This is a tough competition and the little errors crept in and cost us in the end.” Next week the Force travel to Christchurch where they will take on New Zealand Conference leaders the Crusaders.
The Lions return home to Johannesburg where they will host the Bulls who are still in with a chance of reaching the play offs. The loss was the Lions sixth in a row and means that they went without a win on tour in Australasia.
Final Score Force 29 (15) Lions 19 (9)
Tries – M.Hodgson 2, J.Hayward, C.Tuatara-Morrison
Pen – S.Ebersohn
Con – S.Ebersohn 2 , J,Hayward
Tries – E.Jantjies
Pen – M.Boshoff 4
Con – Boshoff
Cards – C.Fourie (34th min yellow)
Referee: Steve Walsh
Assistant Ref 1: James Leckie.
Assistant Ref 2: Ian Smith
TMO: Peter Marshall.