A daunting assignment for any travelling team, the Force entered the game having not won at Loftus since 2007. Coming off a loss, it appeared the Force would be up against it, facing a rested Bulls side emerging from a bye. But that was not how it panned out.
Pollard opens the scoring with a penalty after 8 minutes. The Force soon hit back, scoring the first try of the match through Coleman three minutes later – a beneficiary of Mathewson’s pass. In the 15th minute, Pollard is awarded a penalty kick to keep the Bulls in touch, and he takes it to make the score 6-7.
The Bulls are pinged again and Burton has the chance to capitalise on the Force’s territory and possession dominance but his kick skews left with 22 minutes gone. A linebreak by Brache in the Bulls 22 sees the Force hot on attack, but it comes to naught after it is knocked on.
Both teams have had their moments but have not seized them, and neither team looks in control at this point. In the 33rd minute, the Force concede another penalty – this time for the tackler not releasing – and Pollard makes no mistake in furthering the Bulls’ lead.
They move in front 9-7 despite the Force making the most of the play. Going into half time, the Force trail the Bulls 9-7. Notwithstanding the Force looking noticeably better ball in hand (which is not saying much), the Bulls are in front thanks to the Force ill-discipline and Pollard’s boot.
From the half time break, the Force draw first blood – through Wykes who recovers Burton’s unsuccessful penalty kick and dots down. This time the kick is good, and the Force regain the lead at 9-14. The Bulls spring into action and make their way upfield.
Their lineout drive starts to come in to play and the Force struggle to counteract it legally. As a result Adam Coleman (in the 47th minute), and Tetera Faulkner a minute later are binned. For nine minutes they are down two men.
From a pick and go five metres out, van der Merwe goes in under the posts for the Bulls’ first try. The kick is good and it is 16-14 with 50 minutes gone. With two men in the bin, the Force look to up the tempo in attack and are awarded a penalty for their efforts. But again the kick is wayward.
At this point the Force penalty count starts to rise as the Bulls look to press home the advantage. The Force are pinged for going off their feet at the breakdown and Pollard extends the lead to 19-14 at 62 minutes. Five minutes later the Force infringe again, and Pollard keeps the scoreboard ticking over. 22-14.
Eight points behind, the Force go right back on the offensive. After a series of phases five metres from the Bulls line, Godwin casually jukes his way in between two forwards to score. Taking over the kicking duties from Burton, Ebersohn’s conversion is successful, making it 22-21 with eight minutes to play.
At 77 minutes, the Bulls are pinged at the ruck – opening the door for the Force to take the lead. From 60 metres out the kick is good, and with two minutes to play, the Force lead by 22-24. When it looks like they might hold out until the final siren, Coleman is penalised for a dangerous tackle.
Pollard duly slots the freebie to clinch the win at the death and leave the Force contemplating what could have been. Final score: 25-24.
The Game Changer
The most obvious game-changing moment was the penalty kick awarded to the Bulls for a Coleman high tackle in the 80th minute to give the Bulls the lead. As well, the nine minute period when the Force were two men down saw the Bulls score seven unanswered points (extending their lead to eight), and the Force make a number of tackles.
The G&GR MOTM
Rudy Paige had a very good game marshalling the forwards, providing snappy service, and defending fearlessly. For the Force, Kyle Godwin had his best game for the Force in a while – really featuring more with ball in hand. Adam Coleman gets a honourable mention and no more – only because of his yellow card and the final penalty of the game. But my MOTM was without a shadow of a doubt Handre Pollard – whose kicking from the tee single-handedly kept the Bulls in the game.
Against the big Bulls boppers, Coleman acquitted himself well in his first game back from injury. If he can watch his discipline without toning down his physicality and aggression, he could realistically play a part in Cheika’s plans in the foreseeable future.
Score & Scorers
Tries: van der Merwe
Penalties: Pollard (6)
Tries: Coleman, Wykes, Godwin
Conversions: Burton (2), Ebersohn
Cards & citings