Crusaders edge Force in tight arm-wrestle

Getty Images

James Mortimer     31 May 2014     Getty Images

It was a tight contest but eventually two penalty tries to the home team, one from a maul, another from the scrum, proved to be the difference between the teams.

The Crusaders ninth win on the season gives them 41 competition points and has them well poised as we head towards the June break.

The Force, who recorded their fifth loss of the season, will likely drop out of the top six at the conclusion of Investec Super Rugby Round 16.

The match opened with the Crusaders camped in Force half, and while the defence of the tourists was immense, they were struggling to get out of their own redzone.

A penalty to Colin Slade in the 11th minute came thanks to the Force being offside, but the tourists were under the pump throughout the opening ten minutes.

The Crusaders were getting their hands on the ball, returning All Blacks number eight Kieran Read managed some good runs, while the home team's backline was getting plenty of time to attack the Force line.

The first genuine try scoring chance came with a charge down in the 15th minute by Dominic Bird, but the ball woud beat all into touch.

The Force were given a warning 18 minutes in, with the referee clearly being wary about the amount of penalties the West Australians were conceding at the ruck.

This led to a series of scrums on the Force five metre line.

Eventually the Crusaders earned the penalty but the visitors would continue to hold off.

That was before All Blacks fullback Israel Dagg continued to make his presence felt, sprinting down the field to set up Johnny McNicholl for the first try of the half.

With just 24 minutes played, a Slade conversion would give the seven-time champions a 13-0 lead.

The Force managed to squeeze back some territory and possession in the last quarter of a hour, but the Crusaders, who were perfect defensively in the opening half, managed to keep gaining the ball.

A penalty in the final play of the first stanza would give the top of the New Zealand Conference leaders a 16 point lead.

Again the second half would begin with the Crusaders bringing on a new front row, with Corey Flynn, Owen Franks and Wyatt Crockett coming off the bench.

The Force would be under early pressure in the second before beginning to fightback in their best period of the game.

Constant attack from the visiting outfit, putting together a couple of minutes of sustained offence, would yield the ulimate goal.

Dane Haylett-Petty would score in the 48th minute, a great individual effort which sees him cross under the posts.

The Crusaders, so dominant in the opening periods, were finding the Force a different proposition in the second half.

The penalty count and statistics were beginning to swing towards the team from Perth, the Crusaders were muscling up in defence but were conceding territory.

However a great play from All Blacks captain Richie McCaw in the 56th minute, forcing a clean turnover, would take the pressure valve off slightly.

But the Force had spent four minutes in the Crusaders 22, in contrast to the solitary 60 seconds the hosts had been in the danger area of the visiting Australians.

The men in blue were still throwing plenty at the Crusaders, with Israel Dagg looking to have suffered a slight stinger as the Force threw ball carriers at the red wall.

With just over ten minutes to go coach Todd Blackadder would continue to empty the Crusaders replacement bench, hoping that fresh legs would help claim the contest.

As the clock ticked into the 70th minute, the red and blacks would decline a penalty and throw another close range attack at the Force defence.

A little scuffle showed how the visiting team were beginning to get annoyed as the Crusaders momentum mounted, and Force forward Sam Wykes was sent from the field, shown a yellow card for an earlier ruck offence.

Merely seconds later the referee would give the hosts their second try, awarding a penalty try for what looked to be an illegal collapse of the Crusaders maul.

It would be the winning of the contest.

The Force were able to get some offence together, but the visitors were struggling with 14 men, and things became worse when Angus Cottrell was seriously injured and was stretchered from the field.

An attacking scrum to the Crusaders in the last play of the game would eventually after numerous resets see another penalty try awarded, giving the hosts a healthy 23 point win.

Crusaders 30

Tries: McNicholl (24), Penalty try (72), Penalty try (83)
Con: Slade (25), Slade (73), Slade (84)
Pen: Slade (11), Slade (22), Slade (40)

Force 7

Tries: Haylett-Petty (48)
Con: Ebersohn (49)