The Western Force challenged the Crusaders side on Friday night, as a last minute try from the visitors stripped the home side of their all-important bonus point. Without it, the Crusaders campaign will rely on other results as they head in to their last regular season game of Sky Super Rugby Trans-Tasman next week against the Rebels.
The Western Force came out roaring in the first few minutes, moving the ball to create an overlap on the wing. Toni Pulu broke Will Jordan’s defence with a beautiful step, and beat Leicester Fainga’anuku to the line. A conversion by Domingo Miotti opened the scoreboard 0-7.
Manasa Mataele soon evened the score, chasing a kick from Braydon Ennor to the in-goal, the conversion nailed by Fergus Burke.
The Force were under pressure again minutes later, Will Jordan boosting to the corner for another five points, completing a well-worked team try. The Crusaders followed up with some consistent phases, pushing the ball forward through the Force line, Whetukamokamo Douglas getting another try for the home side.
Within minutes the Force snapped back, putting some physical phases together. Ollie Callan found a gap across the line, a great starting debut for the number 8. A second conversion from Domingo Miotti lifted the score to 17-14 just over half an hour in.
The Crusaders were looking to extend their lead back out, but Manasa Mataele was denied a potential second try due to a prior knock on. The same disappointment came for Tamaiti Williams as the TMO announced he lost the ball in grounding.
However, Williams made up for it in the next minute as he carried Sione Havili Talitui across the line, Burke’s conversion bringing the score to 24-14 heading into half time.
Again, the Force came out of the sheds looking to make a statement, but were held off by strong defensive cover from the Crusaders.
47 minutes in, it was looking as though a maul might get the Crusaders across the line. Instead a bullet pass from Bryn Hall sent man of the match Will Jordan through for his second try of the night.
Jordan wasn’t done there with what looked to be a hat-trick only a minute later, but the try was again denied due to a TMO call – an earlier catch had been taken by the Force who played on, but on TMO review the player was deemed to have landed in touch, and play went back to the line-out.
Just as the game seemed to be coming to an uneventful close, a late turnover from the Force sent a huge kick and chase up the field. Jordan Olowofela won the race against Josh McKay to score in the final minute – also snatching the Crusaders’ crucial bonus point from their reach.
Despite this, the Crusaders came out on top in what could be their last home game of the season, with a final score of 29-21. The side will now wait and see where their last game of the Trans-Tasman regular season, against the Rebels, will be held next week.
Crusaders 29 (Manasa Mataele, Will Jordan 2, Whetukamokamo Douglas, Sione Havili Talitui tries; Fergus Burke 2 con) Force 21 (Toni Pulu, Ollie Callan, Jordan Olowofela tries; Domingo Miotti 2 con, Ian Prior con). HT: 24-14