Planet Rugby

Force edge out Queenstown victory

22nd March 2008 03:11

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Ryan Cross v Highlanders

Man of the match: Ryan Cross

The Force grabbed their second-ever Super 14 win in New Zealand on Saturday - hot on the heels of their first last week - beating the Highlanders 36-28 in a smashing game of rugby in Queenstown.

The teams shared six tries, but in the final fifteen minutes it was the indiscipline of the Highlanders that cost them the game, with three late penalties allowing first Matt Giteau and then Cameron Shepherd to kick the crucial game-clinching points.

Again, the Highlanders will kick themselves. At times this season they have been in positions to compete but been unable to capitalise, this time they were in a winning position but could not close the game out. 28-20 up with 20 to go, the concentration evaporated completely.

There are plusses for the Otago side. The attack looked sharp most of the time, and had the support runners been on the shoulders permanently, they might have scored 50. Far too many times the likes of Daniel Bowden and Jimmy Cowan set off through a half-gap and over the gain-line, only to be held in the tackle and holding the ball in isolation. Glenn Moore might choose to spend the week on some offload and support angle drills.

The Force were clinical about the chances they did get, hence their convincing victory in a game which they had little control of. Giteau and Shepherd kicked seven from seven between them, and the few attacking chances they did have were exploited to the full. The belief courses through the team from one to fifteen - another glaring difference between the two sides on the day.

Giteau and Bowden exchanged penalties in a cagey opening ten minutes, before Highlanders centre Aaron Bancroft opened the serious scoring with a blistering solo try, stepping inside Giteau and then blazing home. Questions will be asked as to the whereabouts of Scott Staniforth and Shepherd in the covering positions though.

Now the game opened up. Drew Mitchell made a 50m break to near the hosts' line and then saw his offload knocked on. In other circumstances Mitchell might well have opted to offload earlier than he did.

Back the momentum swung to the home team, with Tom Donnelly intercepting a pass out wide and breaking but holding on a little unnecessarily in the tackle.

Then the Force went back on the attack, and this time they scored, with lock Tom Hockings feeding off an inside pass from Ryan Cross to score, Giteau converting.

Cross had an excellent game, and five minutes later it was his clean break that put the Force in the lead. the back-row support nearly made a hash of the final movement, but just as soon as Fetu'u Vainikolo had stolen the loose pass, he had it ripped off him by Richard Brown, who went on to score.

In a game of ebb and flow, the Highlanders seized the initiative back one more time before the break, and Bowden landed a penalty to make it 13-17 at the break.

There were fewer twists and turns in the second half. The first part of it belonged to the Highlanders, the second to the visitors. Within three minutes of the restart, Paul Williams finished off a terrific inter-passing move (support runners were so crucial) between himself, James Wilson and Hoani McDonald, and then a Staniforth try for the Force was disallowed for the winger's use of his elbow to crawl over the line.

Within two minutes, Vainikolo had taken a switch pass from Williams and steamed home from 50 metres. Another support runner, another try. Bowden had missed the first conversion, but notched this one, and the Highlanders led 25-17.

Now James Stannard made a break for the Force, and he saw his offload batted down rather cynically by a retreating Highlander. It could have been a penalty try, but referee Mark Lawrence decided it was only a penalty offence, and Giteau made it 25-20. Bowden restored the gap to eight on the hour mark with a penalty of his own.

But the Force refused to give up, despite feeling hard done by on both the Staniforth and Stannard decisions, and then got a little of the rub of the green themselves. The Highlanders were awarded an advantage at a knock-on, but on that first phase of advantage, Cross intercepted a Cowan pass. Referee Lawrence decided advantage had already run its course - it seemed a ludicrously short advantage - and Cross raced home for the try under the posts. 28-27.

From here, the Highlanders should have closed the game out. But three offsides, one at a tackle, one stupid one at a kick, and one for breaking early from the scrum, were all punished. That aspect of the Highlanders' game needs to be examined this week.

Man of the match: Paul Williams played well for the home team, as did locks Tom Donnelly and Hoani McDonald for the Highlanders. Matt Giteau had a mature game, Nathan Sharpe once again delivered a captain's performance, and the Force back row can be proud of its running in support. But it was Ryan Cross who made the most telling contribution.

Moment of the match: Paul Williams' try. A break by him, a miracuous offload by Wilson in the tackle, a great piece of support play and timing from McDonald and a strong finish from Williams. Great stuff.

Villain of the match: Not a single problem to speak of

The scorers:

For the Highlanders:

Tries: Bancroft, Williams, Vainikolo

Cons: Bowden 2

Pens: Bowden 3

For the Force:

Tries: Hockings, Brown, Cross

Cons: Giteau 3

Pens: Giteau 3, Shepherd 2

Highlanders: 15 James Wilson, 14 Paul Williams, 13 Niva Ta'auso, 12 Aaron Bancroft, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Daniel Bowden, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Steven Setephano, 7 Tim Boys, 6 Craig Newby (c), 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Hoani MacDonald, 3 Chris King, 2 Jason Macdonald, 1 Jamie Mackintosh.

Replacements: 16 David Hall, 17 Keith Cameron, 18 Hayden Triggs, 19 Adam Thomson, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Mike Delany, 22 Brett Mather.

Western Force: 15 Cameron Shepherd, 14 Scott Staniforth, 13 Ryan Cross, 12 Lachlan MacKay, 11 Drew Mitchell, 10 Matt Giteau, 9 Chris O'Young, 8 Richard Brown, 7 David Pocock, 6 Tamaiti Horua, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Tom Hockings, 3 AJ Whalley, 2 Tai McIsaac, 1 Pek Cowan. Replacements: 16 Luke Holmes, 17 Troy Takiari, 18 Sam Wykes, 19 Scott Fava, 20 James Stannard, 21 Scott Daruda, 22 Nick Cummins.

Referee: Mark Lawrence

Touch judges: Willie Roos, Keith Brown

TMO: Shane McDermott

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