Western Force ended their pre-season campaign on a high, with a brace of tries from Luke Morahan helping them to a 34-26 victory over the Asia Pacific Dragons at McGillivray Oval in Perth on Saturday.
In dry conditions, the Force came out in emphatic fashion in the first-half, outscoring the invitational side 24-5 before half-time, and then holding on through three second-half Dragons tries to walk away victors.
Morahan was in fine form, with the 25-year-old winger putting in a strong attacking display in front of the home crowd.
In addition to Morahan’s double, Angus Cottrell, Matt Hodgson, Dane Haylett-Petty and Solomoni (Junior) Rasolea all added five-pointers of their own to secure the Force’s second pre-season victory in as many games.
Western Force head coach Michael Foley said while there were positive aspects in his side’s display, there are still fundamental areas requiring improvement before round one.
“In that game today you could see some of the positives, the way we used the ball at times was good,” he told the Western Force's website.
“Early on today our maul got penalized, and then we adapted but in the end we didn’t get the payout of that, so we’ve got a bit of work to do there.
“In defence we had a lot of control of the game early, and then I thought when we had to defend we didn’t work hard enough in simple terms.
“We certainly kept the ball in hand for large periods and then when the space was on behind we knocked the ball in behind, I think Jono Lance did a very good job there, but we can definitely play a little bit faster than what we played in that first half.”
Looking ahead to their round one clash with Melbourne Rebels, Foley said there would be an increased focus on their defensive game.
“There’s got to be a focus on what we’re doing, and I think critically for me it’s being able to invest a lot of energy in the defence and getting the ball back quickly, so that we can actually attack with it,” he added.
“Then when we attack with the ball make sure we maintain that good focus we had on going forward and keeping the tempo of the game up, I think we can definitely work on a couple of those areas.”
In what was an impressive first-half performance, the Force got on the board early with Cottrell powering his way over the top of a breakdown, after a series of successful phases put his side in a strong attacking position.
The floodgates soon opened for the West-Australian side, producing their best attacking foray of the match when skipper Hodgson scored off the back of a maul with the help of his forward pack, followed by Morahan who scored his first of the day when he broke a tackle in his own half, creating space for him to cruise over for the home sides third try.
Jono Lance converted both tries, putting the score at 19-0.
Soon after, the Force’s backline were again rewarded for their dominance when an Alby Mathewson pass into the right hand corner allowed Haylett-Petty to dive over and add on another five points. Lance’s missed conversion attempt put the Force at 24-0, their biggest deficit of the contest.
The Dragons ended the half with their first try of the day, working their way through the Force’s 22 allowing Hadleigh May to cross over and narrow the score to 24-5 going into half-time.
The home side opened up the second-half scoring, after Ammon Matuauto pushed a grubber kick cross field to Morahan who crossed for his second of the day.
With the Force looking certain to close the game out strongly, the Dragons looked for one last surge with a try coming from thunderous second-rower Ben Nee-Nee, followed by another try from Roy Kinikinilau in the corner to narrow the gap down to 29-19 after one out of two successful conversions.
Rasolea closed out the scoring for the Force, collecting a pass from Peter Grant in the corner, followed by an emphatic dive to place the ball across the line and put the score at 34-19.
The game closed out with an intercepted pass turning into a try when Cardiff Vaega picked the ball out of the air, easily strolling over the line to end the game 34-26 in favour of the Force.