Crusaders blow over Force
Perth - The Crusaders doused a spirited Force challenge to notch a thrilling 42-30 win in a highly entertaining Vodacom Super Rugby clash on Saturday.
In a scintillating start that set the tone for the match, the Kiwi team ran in two tries in the first 10 minutes to stun the home side, but the Force regrouped and led until deep into the second half.
However, the seven-times champions dug deep when the game was on the line, running in two tries in the last 10 minutes to snatch the win.
The Crusaders also picked up a bonus point for scoring five tries for the match, while the Force crossed twice.
It seemed as if the Crusaders would demolish the Force when they led 12-0 after nine minutes, following a pair of tries to Israel Dagg.
However, the Force stayed in touch through the boot of James O'Connor, with three penalties.
A try to Cameron Shepherd in the 29th minute and subsequent conversion by O'Connor gave them an unlikely 16-15 lead in the 30th minute.
But the lead lasted just two minutes, with former rugby league star Sonny Bill Williams scoring under the posts to give his side a 22-16 lead.
The Kiwis were up 22-19 at the main break and an early Matt Berquist penalty in the second half doubled the lead, but the game turned when Crusaders skipper Richie McCaw, playing after turning down an invite to the royal wedding, was sent off for for repeated infringements in the 47th minute.
The Force piled on 11 points during his 10-minute absence, including Shepherd's second try, to lead 30-25 and an upset loomed.
Another Berquist penalty closed the gap, before the Crusaders stormed home in the dying minutes with a 71st-minute try by Corey Flynn, and the sealer through Kahn Fotuali'i in the 75th minute.
McCaw admitted his own indiscretion nearly cost the Crusaders.
"It was a good game of rugby," he said.
"We took our chances our early, but mistakes and ill discipline, including by me, let the Force back into the game.
"The momentum changed and we didn't adjust accordingly."
Force captain Nathan Sharpe was disappointed his side faded late.
"That last 10 minutes, we allowed the Crusaders to play too much football in our half," he said.
"They are very hard to stop when that happens."
15 Cameron Shepherd, 14 Nick Cummins, 13
Patrick Dellit, 12 James O'Connor, 11 David Smith, 10 Willie Ripia, 9
Brett Sheehan, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan
Sharpe (captain), 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Matt Dunning, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek
Substitutes: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Kieran Longbottom, 18
Matt Hodgson, 19 Tevita Metuisela, 20 James Stannard, 21 Rory Sidey, 22
15 Israel Dagg, 14 Sean Maitland,
13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Sonny Bill Williams, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Matt
Berquist, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Richie McCaw (captain), 7 Matt Todd, 6
George Whitelock, 5 Chris Jack, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Ben Franks, 2 Corey
Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett
Substitutes: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17
Owen Franks, 18 Joe Wheeler/Reuben Thorne, 19 Jonathan Poff, 20 Willi
Heinz, 21 Tom Marshall, 22 Adam Whitelock