The Western Force has secured a vital win over Moana Pasifika at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland with a 28-48 triumph.
In a physical and high-scoring match-up, the Force proved too strong and clinical for the home side scoring seven tries to four.
Run-on captain Ian Prior praised the character and resilience of the squad. “It’s no secret that it’s been a tough couple weeks, but I’m immensely proud of the group,” Prior explained.
“This one is for the fans. They’ve stuck with us through the years, and we wanted to make our family and friends proud, which I hope we did today.”
The Force started the contest brightly, with dominance in the set-pieces. Hooker Andrew Ready charged over from a rolling maul after a slick line-out in the eighth minute to give the Force an early lead (0-5).
Pasifika hit back swiftly three minutes later, with Tima Fainga’anuku crossing over and Lincoln McClutchie converting (7-5).
Fainga’anuku added his second of the match in the 22nd minute following some rapid ball movement. McClutchie converted to open up a 14-5 lead.
Pasifka centre was shown a yellow card in the 26th minute after a dangerous tackle on Richard Kahui.
The Force made the most of the numerical advantage, and after some slick passing from Ready and Manasa Mataele on the wing, Jake McIntyre raced away for a try. Prior made no mistake with the conversion to reduce the deficit to just two points with 30 minutes played (14-12).
Jeremy Thrush seemed to have crossed over for his fifth try of the season in the 38th minute after plucking the ball from the ruck and dotting the ball down, but the veteran lock was deemed to have knocked-on in the process.
Byron Ralston regained the lead for the Force after the half time siren, with the winger latching onto Prior’s pinpoint pass to reach over the try line. Prior converted to give the Force a five-point lead heading into the break (14-19).
The Force continued to dictate play after the break and surged 12 points ahead in the 43rd minute. Fly-half Reesjan Pasitoa broke the line with a powerful run before passing to Pulu, who crossed over for his second of the night (14-26).
A fifth try of the match quickly followed after Kahui evaded two tackles before breaking away with a barnstorming run. The former All Black passed to Pulu on the wing who showed great poise to quickly offload to McIntyre for the try in the 48th minute (14-31).
Ezekiel Lindenmuth then got one back for Pasifika in the 52nd minute, which McClutchie converted (21-31).
Prior successfully scored a penalty goal in the 56th minute to keep the scoreboard pressure on Pasifika (21-34).
Homegrown talent and Palmyra junior Jackson Pugh scoring the first try of his career in the 59th minute after Tim Anstee breached the defensive line. Prior converted to gain a 20 point advantage with an hour played (21-41).
Pasifika fought back with a converted try from Tau Koloamatangi with 12 minutes to go, but it was the Force who would have the last say.
A trademark run and offload from Mataele opened up clear space for Kyle Godwin to sprint over and score a match sealing try with three minutes remaining. Michael McDonald converted from directly in front (28-48).
Godwin’s try, which is his fifth of the campaign, ensured the Force keep their finals hopes alive with a crucial bonus point victory.
The Force travel home to Perth tomorrow ahead of their final home game of the season against the Hurricanes on Saturday night at HBF Park.
Western Force: Tries: Andrew Ready (8’), Jake McIntyre (29’, 48’), Byron Ralston (40’), Toni Pulu (43’), Jackson Pugh (59’), Kyle Godwin (7’). Conversions: Prior (4), Michael McDonald. Penalty Goal: Prior (56’).
Moana Pasifika: Tries: Tima Fainga’anuku (11’, 22’), Ezekiel Lindenmuth (51’), Tau Koloamatangi (68’). Conversions: McClutchie (4).
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