Western Force produced one of the upsets of the Super 14 season on Friday by flooring the Crusaders 24-16 at ME Bank Stadium.
Western Force produced one of the upsets of the Super 14 season on Friday by flooring a shell-shocked Crusaders 24-16 at ME Bank Stadium.
It was a win born out of sheer guts and hunger in front of a much more vocal crowd than the Perth franchise have become accustomed to.
And the Force ultimately lifted their game to match their support for a victory that seriously dents the red and blacks' hopes of a home semi-final.
Unbelievably the Australians were 0-13 down at the break but John Mitchell, who always backed his team to produce when they were enduring their early-year slump, lifted his troops for a win that moves them up two places in the standings.
The first half did see some classic Crusaders rugby though – soaking up what was thrown at them before turning defence into attack at the other end. But most importantly, they made sure to take the points when on offer. Unfortunately for the Force, they did not do the same despite their territorial and possession dominance.
Richie McCaw's team looked to be on their way to four points when they came out of the blocks firing and they were over the try-line with just five minutes on the clock, some poor fringe defence at ruck-time from Ryan Cross allowing scrum-half Kahn Fotuali'i to scoot in.
But that proved a false dawn for the Crusaders going off the next 20 minutes as the Force stepped up the intensity with ball in-hand, choosing to run a lot more than they kicked. Yet that aforementioned statistical dominance did not pay dividends on the board as the deficit remained at seven points following missed penalties from Brett Sheehan and then David Hill.
Then the seven-time Super 14 champions sensed their moment and, as is their wont, they made sure to take something from their brief visit to the hosts half. Their points came via the boot of Fotuali'i who, knowing that Jonathan Kaplan was playing a penalty advantage, sent over a rather scruffy-looking drop-goal for his team before Daniel Carter extended the lead.
Western Force were without James O'Connor but there was still ample entertainment on show, not least when the Australians realised their side was in with a shout of winning.
That unexpected turn of events arguably arrived due to the back-row battle being won by Matt Hodgson, David Pocock and Richard Brown, who edged Kieran Read, Richie McCaw and Thomas Waldrom in a mouth-watering contest between the six quality players.
Five minutes exactly it took for the Force to get themselves over the whitewash in the second period and it was that back-row trio who had a big hand in getting them going forward before Ben Whittaker squeezed over to close the gap.
The ever-steady David Hill converted and he was on-target again seven minutes later in adding the extras when Pek Cowan broke off a rolling maul to score following good lineout work from Nathan Sharpe, who put in another mammoth shift in the number five jersey.
Carter did restore the lead for the Crusaders with a well-taken drop-goal on 69 minutes but they could not deny the Force as they scored a wonderful breakout try that was started by hooker Nathan Charles. The replacement raced from his own 22 down the left before handing on to Tom Hockings who then found Hodgson on his shoulder to touch down.
Hill converted once again and was then successful with a late penalty to deny the beaten Crusaders the losing bonus point and send the Perth crowd wild.
Man-of-the-match: The calls, lineout takes, carries and intensity that Nathan Sharpe brought to the Force game was a big factor in how they won it. Another immense effort.
For Western Force:
Tries: Whittaker, Cowan, Hodgson
Con: Hill 3
For the Crusaders:
Drop: Fotuali'i, Carter
Western Force: 15 Mark Bartholomeusz, 14 Nick Cummins, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Ryan Cross, 11 Cameron Shepherd, 10 David Hill, 9 Brett Sheehan, 8 Richard Brown, 7 David Pocock, 6 Matt Hodgson, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Ben McCalman, 3 Tim Fairbrother, 2 Ben Whittaker, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Charles, 17 Matt Dunning, 18 Tom Hockings, 19 Sam Wykes, 20 Justin Turner, 21 Sam Harris, 22 Dane Haylett-Petty.
Crusaders: 15 Sean Maitland ,14 Adam Whitelock, 13 Robbie Fruean, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 Zac Guildford, 10 Dan Carter, 9 Kahn Fotuali'i, 8 Thomas Waldrom, 7 Richie McCaw (c), 6 Kieran Read, 5 Chris Jack, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Ti'i Paulo, 1 Ben Franks.
Replacements: 16 Dan Perrin, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Sam Whitelock, 19 George Whitelock, 20 Andy Ellis, 21 Dan Bowden, 22 Colin Slade.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan