In the second hit-out of the two-match series, the Western Force went down narrowly 34-28 against Japanese Rugby League One side Urayasu D-Rocks on Saturday 12 November.
Coach Simon Cron tweaked a youthful run-on side. Props, Angus Wagner and junior Wallabies representative Sifa Amone were named, joined by junior Wallaby and Fortescue Academy player, flanker, Jhy Legg.
Cron named 31 of his 32-man travelling squad, rotating his bench with unlimited substitutions. In the backline, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa started at scrum-half, while Australia A representative Hamish Stewart and Fortescue Academy graduate George Poolman paired in the midfield. Wanneroo Districts product Grason Makara came onto the left wing.
The Force were keen to make amends from the week prior, playing plenty of ball in hand rugby, followed by a surplus of movement early on. The starting XV hit hard through the midfield before looking for width in the first handful of phases.
A powerful performance in the front-row and patience in set-piece, built formidable phases early. Accurate clean-outs and early arrival at the breakdown brought generous rewards and quick recycling, allowing Fines-Leleiwasa to release his runners.
But it was the home side who opened the scoring on 11 minutes, slipping through to touch down in the left-hand corner. Unconverted (5-0). The D-Rocks shortly crossed for their second try at 21 minutes, with a swift break-out from inside their half. Unconverted (10-0).
Three minutes later, the Force were quick to swoop on poor D-Rocks handling and Wests Scarborough product Kainoa Gudgeon won the race to score. Converted by Max Burey who has been training with the squad from Sydney's Northern Suburbs Rugby Club (10-7).
D-Rocks turned down their chance of an easy three points on 30 minutes. Opting for a line-out, putting a kick behind the Force defence and increasing the lead to 10 points with their third try. Converted (17-7). They kept the scoreboard ticking over, scoring close to the side-line from a line-out rolling maul, unconverted, to take a 22-7 lead into the break.
The Force returned with conviction. Slick ball movement and stylish set plays were on offer early in the second period. New signing Chase Tiatia picked up a kick just inside the D-Rocks half to outpace the chasers, charging over the line with a break-out try. Stalwart scrum-half, Ian Prior converted (22-14).
But the D-Rocks added two quick-fire five pointers, from a rolling maul and an individual effort - the second converted- to take the lead out to 20 points (34-14) as Cron rang the changes.
The Force put pressure on the D-Rocks, keeping them on their line. After the forwards went to work from the line-out Nick Chan, a centre from Randwick who is training through the pre-season in Perth, crossed out wide. Prior converted (34-21).
The Force left their best to last, Burey finishing off tastefully. Burey started with a move deep in their half, blindsiding the opposition with a punishing run and neat hands, closing with a convincing touchdown between the posts. A complete kick over the top from Prior rounded the 80 minutes, 34-28.
A gallant second half by the visiting side saw many new faces step up. The two-match series had plenty of takeaways ahead of a promising 2023 Super Rugby Pacific Season.
Tries: Gudgeon, Tiatia, Chan, Burey
Conversions: Burey, Prior (3)