Queensland Country and the Western Force fought out a high scoring game when they met at Bond University in the regular season, with the Force prevailing. With a place in the big dance on the line, who would book their seats for the daunting flight to Fiji? On paper, these are two very evenly matched teams, so as long as nerves don’t play a part, we should be in for a good one.
Under a backdrop of a gathering storm, the teams ran onto the field, and Hamish Stewart got us underway.
The Force looked keen to throw it early, perhaps sensing the weather may close in a little later on, however a turnover saw them in strife in their own end. A few phases later, a lovely ball from Stewart saw Jordan Petaia skip outside his man and seemingly easily got in the right corner. 5-0 early to Country as the lightning made an appearance in the background.
All the game early was in the Force half as they struggled to get out of their own end. A bit of push and shove saw Rod Davies throw a punch and earnt himself a seat on the naughty chair. From the resulting penalty, some consistent phase play and grunt work from the forwards saw another penalty and Caleb Timu being held up. The Force are holding on by a thread at this point.
Jack McGregor then found himself joining Davies after not rolling away and the Force were facing a two man gap for the next six minutes. Caleb Timu went blind off the scrum and scored and with Stewart missing the kick again it was 10-0 Country after 12 minutes.
With the advantage it was clear that the Force would be up against it. Deegan had a clearance charged down by Scott Young, which the Force didn’t clean up. Stewart got a dreadful ball out to Timu’s ankles and he did very well to take it and pass out to Petaia who had a clear path to the line and scored his second. Stewart is not enjoying his kicks today and it is 15-0.
There is no shortage of commitment in defence from the Force, Stander in particular feasting on Kirwin Sanday at one point, but some simple errors by Deegan and Prior were beginning to bite. The teams were soon both on an even footing, with the Force looking to be the next team to score in order to stop the game from getting away from them.
Errors continued to blight the Force game, but just when it was looking futile, a nice little short ball from Deegan put Brad Lacey away to score. Ian Prior made no mistake and it as game on at 15-7 with ten minutes before the break.
Country were quick to reply though, Hockings snagged the restart brilliantly, and after some consistent phase ball, Duncan Paiaua put through a kick which Chris Feauai-Sautia picked up at grass level and scored, making it look a lot easier than it actually was. Stewart missed the kick again and the Country boys were up 20-7.
The back and forth continued just before the break and the Force drove a maul as easy as you like over the line and Heath Tessmann was the beneficiary. No mistake from the conversion again, and despite being outplayed for the vast majority of the half, the Force go into the break down only 20-14. With the weather closing in, the game was still very much for the taking.
The heavens opened at half time and the possibility of a totally different game came to the fore. Whichever team coped better with the changed conditions would book their ticket to the final. An early scrum penalty saw Prior opt for the sticks and he made no mistake, and it was 20-17 Country.
With James Slipper off the park at half time with a popped rib, Harry Hoopert took the field, and it didn’t take long for him to make his mark, proving unstoppable from close range. This time Stewart found the mark and the lead was again extended.
Both teams were still looking to spin it and score points despite the weather and it made for entertaining rugby. Stewart in particular was throwing caution to the wind, with Tom Kibble going close after a long ball, and a no look pass from Daugunu, only a last ditch Alcock tackle preventing the score.
In an unusual move, Damon Murphy called a break due to the lightning being too close to proceedings. This left us with 27 minutes left on the clock and the game still for the taking. Once we returned from the smoko break, the rain was torrential and the Force were on the attack. From the restarting lineout, Harrison Lloyd dived over after some nice build up. Prior made no mistake again and we are back to a three point gap; 27-24.
Country then hit back with a try that in the conditions they had no right to do so. A line break from Daugunu, a spinning run by McDermott, back up by Daugunu and McDermott again and finished off by Tom Kibble topped off a 70m special. Stewart’s horror day in front of goal continued and it was 32-24 with the last quarter of the game ahead.
With around 15 minutes to go, a penalty against Stander for trying to tackle while still on the ground saw Stewart finally make good with the kick and it’s now 35-24. For those keeping track, that is 2 from 7 for Hamish today.
With time running out, the Force looked to try and score but a lineout that had been misfiring all day continued to be disrupted by the tall timber of Blyth and Hockings. I know they both had some Super Rugby but with a bit more meat on their bones they could truly be weapons for club and country in the mould of the South Africans of similar height.
A scrum penalty allowed Stewart to slot another penalty and with five minutes left the Country boys are up by 14. Angus Scott-Young got a late try as Country were winding the clock down, Stewart slotted it and then thanked his lucky stars that his wonky boot earlier in the game didn’t cost the team.
In the end the Force probably didn’t work hard enough off the ball to give Deegan and Prior options to work with and it told. Country go on to take on the Drua next week in what should be a great game in front of an amazing crowd.
The Game Changer
The lead Country built in the first 15 minutes off the back of the two yellow cards to Davies and McGregor proved to be too much in the end. They got within three just after half time but ultimately it was a bridge too far. Country kicked away late in the game and in the end had too many weapons.
The G&GR MOTM
With the game being so back and forth this was a hard one to choose. In the end, Hamish Stewart gets the gong today, despite a tough day with the boot. The way he controlled the play, cleaned up, kicking in general play was superb. In the end he was perhaps lucky his goal kicking didn’t come back to bite him. Honourable mentions go to Caleb Timu with his ever present offloads and the sheer class of Jordie Petaia. For the Force, Harrison Lloyd was strong as was the leadership of Jeremy Thrush. Both the Country locks were also fantastic, causing havoc at the lineouts and restarts.
Rising Star Watch
To fit in with the new award being awarded by the NRC for those with limited Super Rugby (or test in the Drua’s case) experience, the brains at GAGR will also be picking their Rising Star in each game. Today this goes to Tom Kibble, the young number 7 for Country. He was in at the rucks all day disrupting ball and was at the end of the amazing try. What riches Australia (and Queensland) have at this position.
Scores and Scorers
Brisbane Country: 45
Tries: Jordan Petaia 2, Caleb Timu, Chris Feauai-Sautia, Harry Hoopert, Tom Kibble, Angus Scott-Young
Conversions: Hamish Stewart 2/7
Penalties: Stewart 2/2
Western Force: 24
Tries: Brad Lacey, Heath Tessmann, Harrison Lloyd
Conversions: Ian Prior 3/3
Penalties: Prior 1/1
Yellow Card: Rod Davies, Jack McGregor
Photo Gallery (courtesy Stephen Tremain)