Force withstand Crusaders again
April 13, 2013
Jayden Hayward and Ed Stubbs combined to stop Israel Dagg in his tracks
© Getty Images
The Force endured a sustained period of intense pressure from the New Zealand side late in the game, but the hosts showed great resilience to keep their line intact and secure their second victory over the men from Christchurch - and to secure their first win at nib Stadium this season.
The Crusaders came into the contest searching for a fourth win in five games but they failed to match the physicality of the Force in the loose, where Richard Brown caught the eye with a typical all-action performance. Michael Foley's men were disciplined and aggressive in defence, a vast improvement on the side that shipped four tries against Melbourne Rebels in round eight, while their attack was revitalised with Norton-Knight providing an assured presence on his starting debut at fly-half. Alfie Mafi, meanwhile, continued his stellar season with another lively performance, and Hayward supplied the pinpoint accuracy from the kicking tee that has been lacking all too often this season.
The Force had made seven changes to their run-on side, but there was nothing disjointed about the way they started the game. They tore into the visitors from the off, and were rewarded as early as the seventh minute when Toby Lynn and Brown each made crucial metres before Norton-Knight slipped past two tacklers to touch down under the posts.
The Crusaders were rattled, and they were shaken further by two thunderous turnover tackles from Brown and Junior Rasolea, and a successful penalty attempt from Hayward; yet still they turned two rare forays into Force territory into eight points courtesy of a Tyler Bleyendaal penalty and a try from Luke Romano that owed everything to a rampaging break from hooker Corey Flynn.
The New Zealanders struggled to combat the home side's intensity at the ruck, however, and they were punished for their indiscipline in that area by Hayward who banged home another couple of three-pointers. The Force took a 16-8 lead into the break after Romano was denied a second try of the night when the TMO spotted a forward pass earlier in the move, and a bone-crushing hit from Ed Stubbs on Israel Dagg right on the buzzer epitomised his side's combative performance in the opening stanza.
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Two successful penalties from Bleyendaal early in the second half had the Crusaders within two points of the hosts, and momentum of the game appeared to shifting in their favour as the seven-times champions started to assert their authority in the scrum. But heroic last-ditch tackles from Stubbs and Alby Mathewson kept the visitors at bay as the contest moved into its final quarter, and the Force defence valiantly repelled wave after wave of attacks as the home fans roared their encouragement.
Hayward missed an opportunity to relieve some of the pressure when his long-range penalty goal fell short of the posts, but the home side maintained their focus even as a raft of streakers halted play for several minutes.
Force coach Michael Foley was keen to chalk the win down as very much a team effort.
"I thought every single member of the 22 did really well," he said. "The players were incredibly disciplined with the way they played. Not everything went our way, that's for sure and we had to do an enormous amount of defending, especially in that second-half. But we've talked for the past few weeks about the decisions we make when we have the ball and I thought a lot of the decisions we made out there tonight were good ones.
"Credit to the players, it's not easy to make those decisions in the heat of battle. It's easy to see where the space is from the coaches' box, but I thought the players identified that well for themselves tonight."