Feisty Force shock Crusaders
Sam Norton-Knight (Getty Images)
Perth - Australia's lowly Western Force recorded one of the upsets of the season Saturday night, stunning the Crusaders to win their Super 15 rugby clash 16-14 in Perth.
Anchored near the foot of the table and perennial losers at home, the Force played with unexpected bravado and freedom in the first half to catch the seven-times Super Rugby champions by surprise and build an early lead.
Up 16-8 at the break, the Force failed to score a point after half-time, but showed much improved defensive grit to cling on under siege in a match where each side scored just the one try.
The New Zealanders totally dominated possession and constantly threatened to take the game away from the home side in the last 20 minutes.
But they couldn't land the killer blow, ultimately paying the price for having two potential tries declined by the video referee.
The Crusaders' effort was summed up by the final three minutes, in which they twice knocked-on, and then turned over possession in the dying seconds.
Force skipper Matt Hodgson said the result was reward for effort.
"We have been a strong group so far this year, but just been unlucky in some results," he said.
"We've always had the belief, we just needed to put the runs on the board and to get a win over the Crusaders after our disappointing effort last weekend (against the Melbourne Rebels at home) is great."
Crusaders captain George Whitelock said his team committed far too many turnovers.
"This wasn't good enough really," he said. "Far too many handling errors.
"They got off the line and put pressure on us, but at the end of the day you have to be accountable to catch the ball and we weren't good enough.
"They showed us how to do it."
The Force's try came from Sam Norton-Knight in his run-on debut in the fourth minute, when he beat four tacklers to reach over under the posts.
Luke Romano struck back for the Crusaders in the 21st minute, after a string of passes down the left side of the field.
Romano also crossed the try line in the 36th and 55th minutes, but each time was denied by the video referee.
The first try was disallowed for an earlier forward pass by Israel Dagg, while replays of the second failed to prove he had grounded the ball.
Pen: Hayward 3
Pen: Bleyendaal 3
Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Alfie Mafi, 13 Junior Rasolea, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Ed Stubbs, 10 Sam Norton-Knight, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Richard Brown, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Ben McCalman, 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Salesi Ma'afu, 2 Heath Tessmann, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Rory Walton, 19 Chris Alcock, 20 Mick Snowden, 21 Sias Ebersohn.
Crusaders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Tom Marshall, 10 Tyler Bleyendaal, 9 Andy Ellis, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Shane Christie, 6 George Whitelock (c), 5 Dominic Bird, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Corey Flynn, 1 Wyatt Crockett.
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Joe Moody, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Jordan Taufua, 20 Willi Heinz, 21 Telusa Veainu, 22 Zac Guildford.