The Blues held on to secure a 17-13 win over the Force in Perth without scoring any points in the second half. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
The Blues have now gone seven games unbeaten against the Force, but they certainly made heavy weather of it on Saturday. Despite leading 17-3 at the break, ill-discipline and errors allowed the Force to come right back into the game, and in the end the Blues were extremely fortunate to come away with a hard-fought win.
Gutsy defence enabled the Blues to bag the victory after being forced to make 148 tackles in the clash, while they slipped only 14, the same number as the Force.
The Force made an impressive start, enjoying 72% of possession and making 24 runs to one in the opening 10 minutes, and yet they were only able to bank three points for their efforts via the boot of flyhalf Ian Prior.
With heavy rain having fallen before kick-off, both teams regularly put boot to ball, with 26 kicks in play in the first half an hour. However, the Blues gradually worked their way into the game and feasted on turnovers conceded by the Force, with flanker Jerome Kaino scoring the opening try in the 26th minute after an impressive multi-phase buildup.
In another movement that again originated from a turnover, a bit of backline magic saw Blues centre George Moala bust a tackle and execute a delightful offload as a 22m breakout finally culminated in winger Tevita Li darting away for a simple try.
Coupled with an earlier penalty from Ihaia West, the Blues suddenly found themselves 17-3 to the good, and despite a late first-half surge from the Force and a yellow card to prop Charlie Faumuina, it was a lead that the Auckland-based side held on to at the break.
Although the Force failed to make the most of their one-man advantage, they finally broke down the Blues’ impressive defence in the 54th minute, with captain Matt Hodgson barging over the tryline after an extended period of pressure.
The Blues and Force then each took a turn to commit a bad blunder, with West first slicing a penalty that could have put the visitors 10 points ahead, while moments later Hodgson opted to take a quick tap, but only succeeded in knocking the ball on.
Although errors crept into the game, momentum had clearly shifted in favour of the Force, and a 65th-minute penalty to Ben Tapuai cut the deficit to just four points. With the Blues' penalty count rising to 15, further ill-discipline then saw replacement Nic Mayhew sent to the sin bin for a cynical offence late in the game.
However, the Force were unable to make them pay, with an error enabling the Blues to win back possession and hang on for an unattractive win.
Force – Try: Matt Hodgson. Conversion: Ben Tapuai. Penalties: Ian Prior, Tapuai.
Blues – Tries: Jerome Kaino, Tevita Li. Conversions: Ihaia West (2). Penalty: West.
Force – 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Marcel Brache, 13 Ben Tapuai, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Luke Morahan, 10 Ian Prior, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Brynard Stander, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Ross Haylett-Petty, 3 Guy Millar, 2 Harry Scoble, 1 Francois van Wyk.
Subs: 16 Anaru Rangi, 17 Pek Cowan, 18 Tetera Faulkner, 19 Rory Walton, 20 Angus Cottrell, 21 Ryan Louwrens, 22 Luke Burton, 23 Semisi Masirewa.
Blues – 15 Melani Nanai, 14 Matt Duffie, 13 George Moala, 12 Piers Francis, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Ihaia West, 9 Billy Guyton, 8 Steven Luatua, 7 Tanerau Latimer, 6 Jerome Kaino, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Patrick Tuipulotu, 3 Charlie Faumuina, 2 James Parsons (c), 1 Sam Prattley.
Subs: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Ofa Tu’ungafasi, 18 Sione Mafileo, 19 Hoani Matenga, 20 Kara Pryor, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Matt McGahan, 23 Male Sa’u.
Photo: Stefan Gosatti/Getty Images