The Canberra Vikings sent a strong side to Perth to take on the as yet undefeated Force in an attempt to improve their position in a crowded ladder. There were no less than 5 capped Wallabies in the Vikings starting side with 3 of those in a strong pack flush with Brumbies.
It was the Force however who managed to land the first blow through an intercept try to emerging star Byronn Ralston, this week playing outside centre. Some good work by the Force forwards then resulted in the second with Jeremy Thrush proving hard to tackle as he crashed over to give the Force a 14-0 lead within 10 minutes.
From there the game developed into an arm wrestle with both sides making headway at times. Andy Muirhead showed great pace down the right wing to bring the score back to 14-7 before Jonah Placid managed to chase down a deft little kick through from Force fullback Jake Strachan to take it back out to 19-7.
The Vikings forwards found their stride towards the end of the half, mounting pressure on the Force line as the clock ticked closer to the break. Lachlan Lonergan eventually scoring off the back of a rolling maul to send the teams into the half at 19-14.
The Force exploded out of the blocks in the second half, crossing the paint three times in quick succession. Unfortunately for the men in Gold, only the third of these resulted in a change to the scoreboard with the first two ruled no tries because of a forward pass and obstruction respectively. The Vikings then hit straight back to keep the match on a knife edge at 24-21, however a woeful restart from the Vikings allowed Jonah Placid to stroll into the corner untouched to re-establish a 10 point buffer for the Force at 31-21.
The Force started to apply pressure to the visitors as the substitutes began to filter on and looked to be in prime position to seal the match when the Vikings went a man down following a yellow card for a cynical ruck infringement. But as some teams seem able to do, they went up a gear when a man down. They repelled the Force attack and then drew two quick penalties of their own to get back down the other end of the field, with Blake Enever crashing over to keep the Vikings within three with 15 minutes to go at 31-28.
From there on it was all Force though as the substitutes got the ascendency to run out the match. The Force managed two more unanswered tries to Leon Feke and Feleti Kaitu’u to close out the match 45-28. The Force now jump further ahead at the top of the NRC ladder with the Vikings fighting in a midfield that now contains almost all other teams. The match on the whole was a very tight and entertaining affair with both sides showing some grunt up front and flair at the back. Surprisingly it was the Force pack which got on top of the star laden Vikings and this went a long way towards deciding the game in their favour.
Despite the yellow card, the point of the match which turned it towards the Force came after the Vikings returned to their full complement. A loose pass from the Vikings as they pushed hard for a try to keep the match alive landed with the Force, who attacked in their own right, working the ball downfield until replacement hooker Kaitu’u went over the line for what proved to be the sealer to put the Force 17 points clear. It took the wind out of the Vikings a bit and proved to be the last score of the game.
The G&GR MOTM
Plenty of good performances again, both flyhalves control the match well and looked to have plenty of time with ball in hand, always a good sign in a flyhalf. It will be great seeing them run around for with the Brumbies (Lolesio) and Rebels (Deegan) next super rugby season. Irae Simone and Blake Enever showed their class and caused plenty of problems for the Force, as did Jeremy thrush the other way. The Force pack deserves another mention as they had the better of their more fancied rivals over the balance of the match and it is to a member of this pack that I am giving the MOTM to. Henry Stowers has been immense in a fierce Force backrow this season and today was no exception. Big runs and strong tackles over a full 80 minute effort were enough for me to give Stowers the nod today.
Young Force winger Leon Feke had a great game on the left edge. He showed he has plenty of strength and pace to burn and got over the line twice (one disallowed) in a very strong performance. He looked right at home amongst the likes of Muirhead, Placid and Banks and even stood out at times. If he can keep playing like this he will have plenty of people interested in his services.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Placid 2, Ralston, Thrush, Stander, Feke, Kaitu’u
Conversions: Prior 5
Tries: Muirhead, L Lonergan, Ikitau, Enever
Conversions: Lolesio 4
57 mins – Samu (Vikings) – Yellow