Western Force win maiden NRC title with five-try second-half blitz

NRC
by Emma Greenwood

The Western Force have sealed their first NRC title, dismantling the Canberra Vikings in a dominant five-try second-half showing to snare Australian rugby's top domestic title with a 41-3 victory.

Force captain Andrew Deegan said the final score of 41-3 was no indication of how close the game was, given his side held a slender 7-3 lead at the break after a patchy performance in the opening 40 minutes.

But two tries in the 10 minutes after the break set up their win and their overall tally of six tries earnt $600,000 for children's health, medical research and not-for-profit organisations thanks to a pledge made by Force owners Andrew and Nicola Forrest through their Minderoo Foundation.

Western Force players celebrate after winning the NRC grand final against the Canberra Vikings. Photo: Getty Images

While the Perth Spirit lifted the NRC trophy in 2016, the Western Force had never been to the grand final, while the Vikings had made the final weekend of the season twice before, falling to Queensland sides in 2015 and 2017.

"I think we just got our opportunities and we took them at the right time and we came away with the win there," Deegan said.

The Force blew a chance to go ahead further just before the break when halfback Isaak Fines knocked the ball on before the line and Deegan admitted there were nerves at the break after the West Australians faltering finish last week when Brisbane almost ran them down in the semi-final.

"Especially after their semi-final last week (when they fought back against the Fijian Drua), against the trend of our last 20 (minutes)," he said.

Jeremy Thrush on his way to the tryline. Photo: Getty Images

"But I was really proud of the boys and the blokes that came off the bench, that whole second half we took our opportunities and we scored five tries there."

Canberra captain Blake Enever said his team had had a tough afternoon against a "clinical" Force side.

"They made the most of all their opportunities and we made too many mistakes," Enever said.

"After a 7-3 halftime score, anyone was in it but in the second half, they were class.

"Good on them. They're a good team, they're well drilled and they have a good coaching staff. Well done to them and I think we just weren't clinical and we missed a lot of opportunities today."

Tom Banks kicks for touch with the Vikings under pressure in the NRC grand final. Photo: Getty Images

Both teams struggled in a nervous start before the Vikings registered first points through a penalty - a rare occurrence in the NRC.

In the context of the arm wrestle, the kick was a strong option though, with Ryan Lonergan's conversion gaining the first points until the Force crossed after half an hour.

The Force had a chance to level the scores after 27 minutes but opted against the penalty attempt, kicking to the corner in a bid to score a try before losing the ball 5m out.

But good pressure on the kick handed possession back to the home side inside their 22 and they kept the screws on the Vikings through a pair of penalties before their dominance at the set piece eventually paid off.

 

From a lineout close to their line, the Force formed a maul and drove over, with hooker Heath Tessmann touching down for a try that would give his side a halftime lead.

They had another chance to score just before the break when halfback Issak Fines dashed for the line but he knocked the ball on before he could cross for what would have been a pivotal try.

That was mitigated somewhat by an outstanding start to the second half.

The Force scored two tries and a penalty in the 10 minutes after the break to stamp their authority on the game, taking the intensity up a level in the process.

 

Tessmann also set up the home side's second try a minute after the break.

After burrowing through a tackle, the veteran stepped off his left foot before delivering a one-handed pass to lock Fergus Lee-Warner.

Centre Nick Jooste then crossed from a sweetly-worked set play from a scrum, with Deegan's conversion and a successful penalty attempt just minutes later pushing their lead out to 19 points.

The Vikings had defended outstandingly in the first half, with centres Irae Simone and Len Ikitau particularly strong in  shutting down several Force midfield raids.

FULL REPLAY

 

But the Force took their game to another level in the second term, their rushing defence preventing the Vikings from fighting their way back into the game and causing the visitors to make plenty of errors.

It was the home side in again just before the hour mark, with Tessmann driving a maul over the line and getting the okay from the TMO for his second of the afternoon.

Guilty of taking the foot off the accelerator in the final stages of matches in recent weeks, the Force were ruthless down the stretch, ensuring the win with a pair of late tries to Jeremy Thrush and Jonah Placid and a determination to keep the visitors tryless.

With the Forrests offering $25,000 for each try the Vikings scored as well, the defensive effort may have kept cash off the table but the match still raised an incredible $600,000 for Telethon which distributes funds to children's health, medical research and not-for-profit organisations.

Western Force players (from left) Ian Prior, Brynard Stander, Tom Sheminant, Heath Tessmann and Isaak Fines celebrate their win. Photo: Getty Images

The Force will lose several players to Super Rugby franchises ahead of their Global Rapid Rugby campaign, with Deegan, Carlo Tizzano and Harrison Lloyd among those heading to the east coast next season.

"We wanted to send all the blokes off on good terms and for the Sea of Blue (supporters), we can't thank them enough, and (the result) for next year, builds a bit of momentum for Global Rapid Rugby."

RESULT

Western Force 41

Tries: Tessman 2, Lee-Warner, Jooste, Thrush, Placid

Cons: Deegan 4

Pens: Deegan

Canberra Vikings 3

Pens: Lonergan