The Force bucked their poor form on the road by edging the Waratahs 15-14 in Sydney.
The Force have won just thrice away from Perth, but pulled off a memorable win here – one that they will feel gives them an outside chance of making the play-offs, and one that significantly dents the Tahs’ chances of achieving that goal, particularly since they still have a arduous tour of South Africa on the horizon.
The Force attempted to counter the Tahs’ pragmatic approach by attacking in the wide channels, but their ball carriers and support runners were often out of sync, allowing the Tahs, led by Phil Waugh, to regularly slow or steal their ball at the breakdown.
This allowed the Tahs to reform in defence, making it doubly hard for the Force to breach their defensive line. As poor as the Tahs have been on attack (they’ve scored the second-least tries in the tournament), so have they been formidable on defence (they’ve conceded the second-least tries), particularly in the wide channels, making the Force’s preferred avenue of attack slightly perplexing .
They looked a far more competent unit when they played directly, building through the phases and establishing an attacking platform for Matt Giteau and co.
The Tahs were as conservative as they have been all season, relying on their heavies to bust over the advantage line and looking to flyhalf Daniel Halangahu and their secondary punters to gain field position. It was ugly but brutally effective in the first half, as they banked three points on the three occasions they entered the Force’s 22.
The Force were denied a legitimate try by an incorrect call from the assistant referee, who adjudged Scott Staniforth’s foot to be in touch when he executed a brilliant nudge ahead for Drew Mitchell to collect and score.
However, for their complete dominance of both possession and territory, that was the only opportunity of note they created in that period – even when the Tahs were reduced to 14 men as a result of Will Caldwell’s sin binning.
Giteau responded to Halangahu’s nine points with three of his own, concluding a dour half with the Tahs leading by six.
Staniforth broke open the contest 10 minutes into the second half when he chased down Josh Valentine’s expertly executed grubber. But their lead was short lived, the Tahs hitting back through Caldwell, who ran in support of Lachie Turner on the touchline and gratefully accepted his inside pass after the cover defence had been committed. Those of lapses in concentration have been endemic to the Force this season and has cost them games they should have won.
They did, however, reclaim the ascendancy with 15 minutes remaining through a converted try that proved to be the decisive score. Staniforth’s second was a testament to what the Force are capable of when they treasure possession and stay patient in their build up play.
The Tahs had opportunities to steal victory, but those were lost for a variety of reasons, poor decision making and indifferent ball protection at the breakdown being the primary ones.
The Tahs will have to win all three of their tour matches to be involved at the business end of the tournament. A big ask considering how mediocre they’ve been in recent weeks.
By Ryan Vrede