The Force were denied their first victory of 2011 after Blues pivot Stephen Brett kicked a penalty in injury time to secure a 22-22 draw.
The Force were denied their first victory of 2011 after Blues replacement pivot Stephen Brett kicked a penalty in injury time to secure a 22-22 draw in Perth on Saturday.
It must have felt like a defeat for the Force, who will be kicking themselves for letting this one slip after leading their trans-Tasman rivals by ten points with five minutes left to play.
However, a yellow card to replacement forward Jono Jenkins was followed by a converted try to Blues skipper Keven Mealamu as the visitors' late surge threatened a certain Force victory.
In the end, the Blues would have been happy to salvage a draw – which keeps the Force winless in the all-new Super Rugby tournament this season ahead of their trip to South Africa, where the Lions and Stormers await.
O'Connor had a golden night with the boot, nailing his first six shots on goal and also unleashing a spectacular try-saving tackle on Blues full-back Isaia Toeava in the second half.
But it wasn't enough for the Force, who must be wondering just what they must do to notch a win after their heartbreaking one-point loss to the Reds in Round One.
Blues pivot Luke McAlister – named man of the match last weekend against the Lions – had a nightmare start with the boot, missing two sitters that saw six points gone begging after as many minutes.
Instead, it was the Force boasting a 6-0 lead thanks to two successful shots at goal from McAlister's opposite number James O'Connor who converted sustained pressure on the Blues' line.
There was then good and bad news for the Blues – the good news was that McAlister finally found his target in the 18th minute with his third attempt, the bad news was the exit of lock Ali Williams from the pitch after pulling a hamstring.
McAlister made it two from four a few minutes later to level the scores (6-6). It was a fair reflection of a closely-fought spectacle as both teams had numerous promising attacks thwarted by exceptional defence – Jared Payne's try-saving hit on Alfie Mafi the best of the bunch.
The two pivots traded another penalty between them (9-9), before a scintilating break-out from O'Connor ended with lock Sam Wykes over the chalkdust for a try. Or so it seemed. The ref went upstairs to question Wykes' grounding, and after several replays – the TMO ruled against the try being scored.
It was a decision that could have gone either way.
But it only seemed to pump up the Force even more, and it was fitting that Wykes put centre Nick Cummins over in the corner on the stroke of half-time – a try that couldn't be disputed. O'Connor belted over the touchline conversion to put the Force into a handy 16-9 lead at the break.
The second half was a frustrating one for the Blues who fluffed a try-scoring opportunity early on with Toeava undoing all his hard work by ignoring Joe Rokocoko on his outside and spilling the ball forward with the line at his mercy.
The battle of the boot between McAlister and O'Connor continued but the Blues were in desperate need of a five-pointer after the Force fly-half slotted over his fifth penalty of the night to extend his side's lead to ten points (22-12) with a quarter of the match remaining.
But from there the Blues hit back with the converted Mealamu try. With less than 15 seconds remaining, referee Nathan Pearce penalised the Force forwards for going over the top, with Brett kicking truly from 39m out on a slight angle to break the hearts of the 15,931 fans on hand.
For Western Force:
Pens: O'Connor 5
Pens: McAlister 4, Brett
Western Force: 15 Cameron Shepherd, 14 Alfie Mafi, 13 Nick Cummins, 12 Gene Fairbanks, 11 David Smith, 10 .James O'Connor, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson, 6 Richard Brown, 5 Nathan Sharpe, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Tim Fairbrother, 2 Ben Whittaker, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Charles, 17 Matt Dunning, 18 Tevita Metuisela, 19 Jono Jenkins, 20 James Stannard, 21 Matt Brandon, 22 Pat Dellit.
Blues: 15 Isaia Toeava, 14 Joe Rokocoko, 13 Jared Payne, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Luke McAlister, 9 Toby Morland, 8 Chris Lowrey, 7 Daniel Braid, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Ali Williams, 4 Anthony Boric, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 Keven Mealamu (c),1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 John Afoa, 18 Kurtis Haiu, 19 Luke Braid, 20 Alby Mathewson, 21 Stephen Brett, 22 Sherwin Stowers.
Referee: Nathan Pearce (Australia)