The Western Force showed defensive class as they went down by 13 points to the Blues, during the second leg of their New Zealand tour to finish round five of Super Rugby Pacific.
Despite the 30-17 score line a number of Force fan favourites had brilliant performances, with Santiago Medrano and Toni Pulu both standouts in the physical encounter
It was perfect conditions for running rugby in Auckland as the Force started their attempt to make history and find their first win at New Zealand’s home of rugby in Eden Park.
Some key faces were a sight for sore eyes in the Force line-up with both Sam Spink and Folau Fainga’a finding themselves a starting black and gold jersey after returning from injury.
It took a while for both teams to find their structure, trading possession back and forth with the boot to start the game.
It was the Blues who drew first blood with a 35-metre penalty right in front of the sticks, however the Force had moments of brilliance in the first 20 minutes fronting up against the Blues using their physicality to build pressure.
Santiago Medrano was outstanding to open the game, securing a number of penalties to shut down any opportunity for the hosts to score.
It took arguably the play of the game for the Blues to find the first try through Jacob Ratumaintavuki-Kneep who took an absolute screamer against a strong Force defence to extend his side’s lead to 11 points.
Towards halftime, the visitors continued to look dangerous however were unlucky to convert any of their opportunities into points after a few lucky tries from the opposition.
The first score for the Force would come in the form of a chip receive kicked by fullback Chase Tiatia that sent over skipper Michael Wells that put the score at 18-5 just before halftime.
Heading into the break, the margin remained at 13 points the way of the Blues, however the Force have showed very promising signs thanks to performances from Medrano and Angus Wagner, holding up the forwards while Toni Pulu continued to produce magic in the backline.
The second half started much the same as the Force showed rock-solid defence backed into their half, needing to secure possession to turn the game around.
Key impact players changed the momentum for the Force as Tom Horton, Siosifa Amone and Issak Fines-Leleiwasa were injected into play alongside local Joondalup Brothers product Marley Pearce who made his Super Rugby Pacific debut.
Finally, the Blues cracked under Force pressure to let over Toni Pulu who crashed over in the corner to reduce the margin to 13-points with 20 minutes remaining.
As the game died down the Force didn’t falter, holding the majority of the ball that eventually saw Zach Kibirige speed over the line to add to his side’s haul of points.
Despite the scoreboard, the Force were able to deny the all-important bonus point for the Blues and finished strong to set themselves up well for their next encounter against the Hurricanes at Central Energy Trust Arena in Palmerston North next Sunday.
Tries: Jacob Ratumaintavuki-Kneepkens, Ofa Tuungafasi, Mark Telea, Ricky Riccitelli
Conversion: Stephen Perofeta 2
Penalties: Stephen Perofeta 2
Western Force 17
Tries: Michael Wells, Toni Pulu, Zach Kibirige
Conversions: Hamish Stewart