The Western Force has secured another bonus point win to remain unbeaten in the National Rugby Championship after four games, sending the Canberra Vikings packing 45 – 28 at UWA Sports Park in Perth.
It took back-to-back tries late in the game by the West Australian’s to deliver the knock-out blow in what had been a seesawing battle for supremacy. With the margin just 3 points with 15 minutes remaining, livewire winger Leon Feke flew over the try line in the 67th minute before replacement hooker Feleti Kaitu’u celebrated his return from injury with a scrambling try four minutes later. Skipper Ian Prior nailed both conversions, the final 17-point margin the biggest in NRC history between these sides.
Made to work for the victory by a Vikings outfit brimming with Wallabies and Super Rugby experience, the performance strengthens the Force lead on the NRC ladder and sets up a huge top of the table clash against NSW Country Eagles in Port Macquarie next weekend.
The Force forward pack had another impressive outing, the lineout near perfect and the scrum consistently shunting the men from Canberra around the park. The ball carrying efforts from the forwards would have also pleased coaching staff, Henry Stowers particularly impressive in his battle against Wallaby backrower Rob Valetini.
The game started at a red-hot pace with three tries in the first 10 minutes. Force young gun Byron Ralston added to his impressive hat trick last match with an early intercept and scamper for the line. The 19-year-old has grown with each outing and is making every post a winner in his first NRC campaign.
Experienced lock Jeremy Thrush soon doubled the Force advantage, crashing over to open an early 14 point lead for the Force but, as expected, the Vikings refused to back down from the challenge, winger Andy Muirhead touched down out wide to drag the visitors back into the match.
With the score in the balance, the Force tight five began to turn the screws, squeezing the much-vaunted Vikings pack for several penalties. Their efforts were rewarded soon after when a beautiful strike move from a lineout allowed fullback Jake Strachan to poke through a delicate chip kick which winger Jonah Placid raced on to and then over the try line.
While the Force was playing with positive momentum, it was the Vikings with the last word in a back and forth first half. Hooker Lachlan Lonergan scrambled over in the 31st minute and Noah Lolesio’s conversion brought it back to just a five-point margin at the break.
Two disallowed tries to open the second half could have knocked the stuffing out of the Force, however they held their nerve and showed composure with repeated rolling mauls making it third time lucky. Number 8 Brynard Stander crashed over and this time the referee’s hand stayed up much to the delight of the Sea of Blue watching on from the hill. Prior though uncharacteristically pushed his conversion wide.
If the first half told us anything a 10 point lead was never going to be enough to finish off the Vikings. The visitors upped their tempo, rampaging centre Len Ikitau slammed the ball down after a hard carry off a lineout, the successful conversion closing the deficit to just three points.
The pendulum swung back in favour of the Force when Placid galloped through untouched to snatch the ball immediately from the restart and dot down after a mix up with the Vikings lifting pod. Prior reinstated the 10-point margin with the conversion.
The Vikings frustrations were compounded when flanker Pete Samu was sent to the sin bin after repeated infringements at the contact area however they didn’t let their numerical disadvantage deter them and a try to lock Blake Enever again cut the deficit to three points.
As they have done throughout the NRC campaign, the Force finished hard and fast, the one-two punch of Feke and Kaitu’u finally seeing the Vikings challenge snuffed out.
Western Force 45 – 28 Canberra Vikings
(Half time: Western Force 19 – 14 Canberra Vikings)
Western Force: 45
Tries: Ralston, Thrush, Placid 2, Stander, Feke, Kaitu’u
Cons: Prior 5
Canberra Vikings: 28
Tries: Muirhead, Lonergan, Ikitau, Enever
Cons: Lolesio 4