The Force's hopes of reaching the play-offs for the first time suffered a potentially fatal blow when they lost 40-14 to the Blues in Perth. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.
A Force victory would have taken them back into the top six with two rounds of league matches to go, but it was the Blues who kept their slim play-off hopes alive with a convincing win.
It took the visitors just 17 minutes to secure a bonus point for scoring four tries.
The blitz began when the Blues turned over possession on halfway and Ihaia West collected George Moala's kick ahead to score in the left corner. Charlie Faumuina then crashed over from close range, after the forwards had taken the ball through several phases, before another turnover, by Steven Luatua inside the Force 22, saw West throw a long pass to Lolagi Visinia, who outsprinted the cover defence. Ma'a Nonu then got in on the act when he took the ball at pace and broke through three tackles to score. West kicked three of the conversions to make it 26-0.
Despite losing Sias Ebersohn to injury, the Force were able to stop the rot and get their hands on the ball, but the Blues smothered them by coming up quickly off their defensive line.
Tom Donnelly was yellow-carded in the 48th minute, after the Blues had been warned about continuous infringements at the ruck, but the Force were not able to score any points while he was off. In fact, it was the 14-man Blues who extended their lead when Luke Braid when over.
Nathan Charles finally got the Force on the board with a 65th-minute try, before the Blues got their sixth when a deflected grubber sat up perfectly for Pita Ahki.
The Force then scored again as the full-time hooter sounded, through South African Brynard Stander, to give the scoreboard a little more respectability.
Force – Tries: Nathan Charles, Brynard Stander. Conversions: Jayden Hayward (2).
Blues – Tries: Ihaia West, Charlie Faumuina, Lolagi Visinia, Ma'a Nonu, Luke Braid, Pita Ahki. Conversions: West (5).
Force – 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Dane Haylett-Petty, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Chris Tuatara-Morrison, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Hugh McMeniman, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Oliver Hoskins, 19 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Solomoni Rasolea.
Blues – 15 Lolagi Visinia, 14 Frank Halai, 13 Pita Ahki, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 George Moala, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Bryn Hall, 8 Jerome Kaino, 7 Luke Braid (c), 6 Steven Luatua, 5 Patrick Tuipulotu, 4 Tom Donnelly, 3 Charlie Faumuina/ Angus Ta'avao, 2 Keven Mealamu, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Subs: 16 James Parsons, 17 Angus Ta'avao, 18 Ofa Tu'ungafasi, 19 Hayden Triggs, 20 Peter Saili, 21 Piri Weepu, 22 Francis Saili, 23 Tevita Li.
Photo: Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images