Nick Cummins stars as Force maintain finals bid
July 5, 2014
Nick Cummins poses with his terminally-ill father, Mark, after the match
© Getty Images
Western Force have kept alive the quest for their maiden appearance in the Super Rugby finals, defeating Queensland Reds by 10 points in Nick Cummins' final match at nib Stadium before the Wallabies wing heads to Japan.
The Force looked to be on target for the bonus-point victory that would have seen them replace the Brumbies in the top six when they led the Reds 17-3 inside 20 minutes, through tries from Cummins and Ben McCalman, two of their season's stars. But they failed to put away the Reds, who were awful in the first half yet went to the sheds just seven points adrift after a fine individual try from rookie centre Samu Kerevi shortly before the break converted by Mike Harris.
Jayden Hayward missed two simple penalty attempts to settle the nerves of the home fans, and the Sea of Blue were given cause to get even more agitated when the Reds drove Albert Anae over for a converted try from a lineout move.
The Reds had all the momentum with 10 minutes to play but Hayward landed a penalty goal and Force captain Matt Hodgson then inspired the home troops with a brutal cleanout after a poor lineout to get the hosts on the front foot. Brynard Stander and Hayward kept the charge alive and hooker Nathan Charles rampaged under the posts to score the match-securing try.
The Force searched in vain for their fourth try, and they now head to Canberra to play the Brumbies in what shapes as a winner-takes-all clash at GIO Stadium next week.
Force 30-20 Reds (Australia only)
"There's no fat lady, yet, and we're still in the fight, mate," Cummins said about the Force's finals hopes. "Next week should be a monster in Canberra. Should be good."
Hodgson said the team had laid the platform for victory in the opening quarter, in which their performance was a polar opposite to that in the same period against the Blues the week before.
"That first 20 was probably our best 20 of the year," Hodgson said. "We went up and down, but it was good to get a win a stay alive."
Reds captain James Horwill lamented "missed opportunities" and "silly errors", as has been the case for much of this season, but he paid tribute to the Force's forwards - in particular their back-row of Hugh McMeniman, Hodgson and McCalman - saying "they pressured us at the breakdown, and we probably weren't efficient enough there".
Cummins was involved heavily in the early stages, and he created the opportunity from which he scored the opening try of the match when he tackled Rod Davies into touch. The Force won the ensuing lineout, and Cummins received a good pass from Sam Wykes, broke the tackle of Davies and cruised over the try line.
Nick Cummins bagged the opening try of the game © Getty Images
The Force soon led 17-3 when McCalman was awarded a try set up by a run from Chris Tuatara Morrison and good lead-up work by Wykes and Cummins. But the game started going the Reds' way after Hugh McMeniman dropped a knee on a grounded Ben Lucas. McMeniman received a yellow card, and was subsequently cited for the offence by the citing commissioner, who believed the incident had met the red card threshold for foul play, and the Reds got on the board with run-on debutant Kerevi scoring a soft try while the Force lock was in the sin-bin.
Hayward nailed his third penalty attempt in the second half, to put the Force 20-10 up, before Anae scored the first try of his career on the back of a rolling maul. Harris landed another penalty to level the scores before Hayward kicked his final goal and Charles scored the try that iced the contest.
Force coach Michael Foley was delighted with his team's response from their thumping by the Blues seven days previously.
"Last week was a pretty scratchy performance for us and we were really honest about it early in the week," Foley said. "it hurt us and so it should have. We didn't play our best footy of this year but we got the win - and we had to get that win to keep us alive, and that's really important to even go beyond winning eight games which is one better than the club's best ever performance. We just have to play better next week."
Reds coach Richard Graham was unhappy both with his team's start to the game and the refereeing decisions as the game unfolded.
"In the first 15 minutes we weren't in the contest at all," Graham said. "And when we got ourselves back into the contest, we didn't build any continuity and turned the ball over too easily. We couldn't build any pressure that way and I probably don't think that we got the rub of the green which made it quite difficult for us."
Queensland Reds' James Horwill could only watch from the bench in the final moments © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd
The Scotland coach enters his first Six Nations with at least one familiar face to look to for inspiration - Joe Schmidt. He chats to Tom Hamilton
Italy coach Jacques Brunel spoke to ESPN ahead of his final season as Italy coach and tells of his desire to experiment and evolve
"There's no bull with me, I just tell it straight." Tom Hamilton talks to Warren Gatland in an exclusive interview
With the retirement of Adam Jones, Welsh rugby says goodbye to a great player and one of its biggest personalities too, writes Tom Hamilton