Super Rugby wrap: Historic night for Western Force, now to back it up

It was a dramatic weekend of Super Rugby action on both sides of the Tasman, with the Chiefs and Force emerging in thrillers, while the Crusaders and Rebels proved too strong for the Blues and Waratahs respectively.

Read on as we review some of the big talking points from the weekend's action.


They went in as massive underdogs, but Western Force emerged victorious to not only secure themselves a spot in the Super Rugby AU finals, but also write an unforgettable page in the club's history.

Friday night's incredible 30-27 win over the previously-unbeaten Reds was made all the more dramatic by the fact West Australian Premier Mark McGowan had only hours earlier announced a snap three-day lockdown would begin at midnight, affecting the size of the crowd but also adding more than a touch of anxiety to an already vital contest.

And when Hunter Paisami and Taniela Tupou powered through some flimsy Force defence within 11 minutes of the opening whistle, and then Filipo Daugunu added another five-pointer just after the quarter-mark, the hosts seemed to be headed for a heavy defeat.

But with the introduction of some experienced heads of the bench, and the circuit-breaking running of English import Jordan Olowofela, they turned a 21-7 deficit into a 30-27 win to book themselves a date with the Brumbies in Canberra next week.

The scale of this Force victory cannot be understated.

Sure, their history is well known across Australian sport after they were condemned to the scrapheap, but less so is the never-say-die attitude that ensured they would not be confined to a limp Wikipedia entry under world sporting teams to have bitten the dust, and instead remain a presence for the West Australian rugby community.

And they have also shown just how valuable they are in the national rugby footprint, too. People will point to the large number of imports in their squad, and rightfully so, but without those imports the four Force players to have been invited to Dave Rennie's Wallabies camp earlier this month simply would not have been there.

Vitally, the Force have also unlocked something they were in dire need of at the midway point of the season: Speed and agility in the form of Olowofela. The Englishman may have been a tad lucky with replays appearing to show a clear knock-on ahead of his first try, but there was nothing wrong with the finish for his following five-pointers, including a swan dive after running onto Richard Kahui's delightful grubber, sending the raucous local crowd into raptures.

The big question now is how do can they back that incredible result up against a team that has comprehensively beaten them twice already this season? The Brumbies have class all over the paddock and will also be coming off the bye.

But a big change since the last time the two sides met has been the promotion of Domingo Miotti to the fly-half jersey. The Argentine has formed a strong connection with countryman Tomas Cubelli and the Force seem far more assured of the way they are playing the game as a result; Jake McIntyre was guilty of far too many simple errors during his time at fly-half.

Saturday night's match against the Brumbies in Canberra looms as a huge challenge regardless and one they have already had their preparations disrupted for because of the Perth lockdown. But even another heavy defeat next weekend will do little to diminish their history-making efforts last Friday, and it will also be a message to the Kiwi teams heading to Perth for the trans-Tasman series that the Force will be incredibly hard to beat at home.


With just a few minutes to play on Friday night, the Reds were awarded a penalty right out in front of the Force posts about 10 metres out from the line.

The score at 30-27 in the hosts' favour, Wright could have had James O'Connor kick an easy penalty to level the game and force golden try extra time or give the Reds an opportunity to surge back up field just as they had done in Round 3 against the Brumbies when they claimed the contest after fulltime.

But on that occasion it was O'Connor who made the decision to take the penalty, this time Wright thought the Reds scrum could put the pressure on and perhaps even force a pushover try.

It was the wrong call and Wright later admitted as much.

"In hindsight we'd still be in the game if we took those three points," Wright said. "We felt we had a bit of momentum going forward. We trusted our scrum.

"We just didn't play the right options there towards the end. That's something I've got to wear and try to learn from it and hopefully grow from that as a captain."

While the loss had no effect on the Reds season -- as they had already sewn up the home final -- Brad Thorn's side will have learned a little bit more about themselves and perhaps where the Brumbies or Force might again look to exploit them in two weeks' time.

The way the Force were able to pin O'Connor back into the pocket and have him kick away possession was a concession that their attack had flatlined; certainly the loss of Hunter Paisami to a thumping Tevita Kuridrani hit thwarted the Reds' ability to get over the gainline in midfield.


It doesn't get much uglier in sport than when a team suffers a winless season and while the Waratahs still have the trans-Tasman series to find a victory, the embarrassment of their 0-8 Super Rugby AU campaign will linger for quite some time.

They were certainly in Saturday night's contest against the Rebels but were left to lament more poor defence and an inability to clear their line after scoring points; the Waratahs were also unable to ram home the advantage two Rebels red cards should have created, with the visitors forced to play the final three minutes with just 13 men on the field.

And to really end the season on a low note, the Waratahs forwards were smashed by a seven-man Rebels scrum. If anything summed up NSW's insipid season, that final insult was it.

But there was one positive for the Waratahs in the form of centre Izaia Perese.

After proving himself a handful since his return from a three-week suspension, Perese went to another level in Sydney on Saturday night to issue another reminder to Wallabies coach Dave Rennie.

Perese had a hand in two of the Waratahs' three tries, his offload for Mark Nawaqanitawase's opening try arguably the play of the match.

While Perese was not included Rennie's 40-man squad for a three-day camp in Sydney earlier this month, he has surely put his name alongside a list of contenders at outside centre that includes Len Ikitau, Hunter Paisami and perhaps Jordan Petaia.

"A lot of work off the field, I guess, getting my clarity right, with the coaches in defence and attack," Perese told Stan Sport when asked what he put his strong recent form down to.

"But really also getting that game fitness as well; I think it's a big one for me. That first game against the Reds coming off, suspension, was pretty hard but I stuck with it.

"I think the key for me is to keep playing consistent footy; we've got a two-week break before trans-Tasman so it should be a good rest. But I've just got to keep chipping away and working on the craft."


You have got to hand it to Melbourne Rebels coach Dave Wessels. After a week when he saw his future the subject of constant speculation, Wessels could have easily chosen to celebrate the win over the Waratahs and do the bare minimum at the post-match press conference.

But he instead also fronted up for a Stan Sport interview, coming face-to-face with Tim Horan who had earlier in the week declared him a "dead man walking".

That is no slight on Horan either, who equally stood his ground on the panel, as it is the former Wallaby's duty as a pundit to call it as he sees it.

But there was no animosity between the two men either, with Wessels also giving an insight into why things are perhaps a little tougher for the Rebels and why he thinks he has laid the groundwork for future success.

"I remember before I took the job we were playing the Rebels -- I was working at the Force -- and I saw Tony McGahan on the field and he said to me this job you get three years' worth of experience in one," Wessels said.

"And I think actually when I was weighing it up, I was lucky enough to have some options, and made the decision to come here for exactly that reason. There [are] a lot of macro challenges that we have there that some of the other teams in the comp don't have, and coaching is only a small part of the job down there.

"We don't have a general manager of rugby; we don't even have our own facilities; we can't train when we want to train; we have to drive 30 minutes to a gym; we can't do double days; so there [are] a lot of things that I think in games that are coming down to the last kick of the game.

"I think there's bits and pieces that I can do better almost away from the rugby to try to fix those things so that we can actually compete on a level pegging.

"If I look at the Highlanders game last year, we beat [them] away, I think there's about 11 players in that starting team that are no longer at the club. So we're just not going to win anything unless we can actually build some continuity with the list.

"I think the really good thing is that we've got a young talented list now that obviously care for the club, a lot of them are local boys, so the goal now is to keep this group together for a period of time."

Wessels is still likely to need a couple of wins in the trans-Tasman competition to convince the Rebels board that he deserves a contract extension. It is not beyond them, but they will need to find that consistency Wessels mentioned; their best rugby is good enough to mix in with the top teams but their worst will see them easily swatted aside.


The structure of Super Rugby Aotearoa has been caught out for the second year running, with the final regular season round to have no bearing on the final.

The Crusaders will host the Chiefs in a fortnight after the defending champions easily saw off the Blues on Sunday, while the Waikato outfit had on Friday defeated the Hurricanes when Damian McKenzie proved the hero for the fourth straight week.

If Super Rugby Aotearoa had included a grand final qualifier, as is the case in Super Rugby AU, it would have ensured an intriguing final round with the Chiefs, Blues and Highlanders all still in contention for the finals.

As it stands, the Chiefs may look to give some of their players a break and allow them to sit out Saturday's match with the Blues, before they face the daunting trip to Christchurch for the final.

If the unified 12-team Super Rugby competition doesn't eventuate for the 2022, then New Zealand Rugby would be wise to consider adding a grand final qualifier, though an extra game is unlikely to sit well with the country's playing cohort.