Planet Rugby

Force break their NZ duck

15th March 2008 06:10

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Blues v Force

Hard Lines: Troy Flavell could not prevent his side slipping to defeat

The Western Force put the woes of last week's collapse behind them by recording a superb 17-27 Super 14 win over the Blues in Albany on Saturday.

Well-taken tries by Anthony Tuitavake and Tony Woodcock in the first half gave the Blues what looked to be a decisive advantage, but the Blues could not break free and make that advantage count. And with Matt Giteau in fine form, the Force found their legs to be fresher than their counterparts'.

It was a frantic game, played at a frantic pace, and with a number of frantic calls being made to the local hospitals. The roll call of the injured during the match gave a good impression of the quality of player on show: Giteau, Evans, Rokocoko, Sharpe.

Of them all, Nick Evans came off the worst, heading to hospital for immediate x-rays on a suspected broken jaw. Joe Rokocoko was also forced out of the game prematurely clutching his arm. With them, especially with Evans, went the Blues' rhythm.

The first half belonged to the Blues. They had well over 60 per cent of the territory and a good 60 per cent of the possession. Despite an early flourish from the Force, it was Anthony Tuitavake who made the first telling break, and from then on it was one-way traffic, and no surprise when Tony Woodcock finally bustled over the line.

Meanwhile, Matt Giteau was stumbling around like a drunkard in a hall of mirrors. It was amazing that the medicos left him on the field, still more amazing that despite some obvious dizziness he held his team together superbly. Once Giteau had recovered in the second half, the whole game changed.

There was a wonderful ebb and flow to the Blue tide in the first half. They would tear forward, every one of their vaunted backs making yards at some point or other. The Force back row, and the back three, tackled magnificently though, and the turnovers came. Counter attacks were launched. The game was all about attack - the new laws being adhered to in spirit as well as in whistle.

Eventually a team broke through decisively, and it was the visitors who drew level, Cameron Shepherd taking advantage of a tired-looking Blues defence to scythe through three tackles and score under the sticks. Giteau, still groggy enough to have missed a penalty from 20m a moment before, made no mistake from the tee and it was 7-7.

Meanwhile, as Giteau slotted the kick, Evans was led from the field. Here the game changed. Yes, the Blues managed ten points before half-time. But no, it did not mean the home side looked comfortable. The steady hand at the wheel was gone.

Ben Atiga took over the kicking duties, slotting a penalty before converting Tuitavake's magnificent try - the big winger speeding onto an offload and beating the Force defence for sheer pace over 20 metres. 17-7 at the break.

It took the Force 20 minutes to register the score they needed to get in touch, but by that point the game was already swung. The Blues, collectively, looked punch-drunk and slow. The back-row was struggling to get around to breakdowns, the backs' lines were out of kilter and the scrum was suffering.

Giteau landed a penalty for offside on 58 minutes, and then came the try to level the scores, with Giteau floating a wonderful pass 30m across the field for number eight Richard Brown to exploit the space and score. Giteau converted to level the scores, then gave his side the lead with another penalty a couple of minutes later.

Tamaiti Horua rounded off the scoring as Giteau - with Drew Mitchell's able assistance - once again stretched the tired Blues defence too thin, and again converted, before the Force pack closed things out.

Man of the Match: Having been felled with a pumping thigh in the first five minutes, the way Matt Giteau bounced back from an obvious concussion to steer his team to the win was just awesome.

The scorers:

For the Blues:

Tries: Woodcock, Tuitavake

Cons: Evans, Atiga

Pen: Atiga

For the Force:

Tries: Shepherd, Brown, Horua

Cons: Giteau 3

Pens: Giteau 2

Blues: 15 Ben Atiga, 14 Anthony Tuitavake, 13 Isaia Toeava, 12 Benson Stanley, 11 Joe Rokocoko, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Lee, 8 Nick Williams, 7 Justin Collins, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Troy Flavell (c), 4 Anthony Boric, 3 John Afoa, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.

Replacements: 16 Tom McCartney, 17 Nick White, 18 Kurtis Haiu, 19 Onosai Tololima-Auva'a, 20 Taniela Moa, 21 Rudi Wulf, 22 George Pisi.

Western Force: 15 Cameron Shepherd, 14 Scott Staniforth, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Lachlan MacKay, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Matt Giteau (v/c), 9 James Stannard, 8 Richard Brown, 7 David Pocock, 6 Scott Fava, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Tom Hockings, 3 AJ Whalley, 2 Tai McIsaac, 1 Troy Takiari.

Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Sam Wykes, 19 Tamaiti Horua, 20 Chris O'Young, 21 Scott Daruda, 22 Nick Cummins.

Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)

Touch judges: Christie du Preez (South Africa), Paul Honiss (New Zealand)

Television match official: Ben Skeen (New Zealand)

Assessor: Alan Riley (New Zealand)

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