The Emirates Western Force has fallen agonisingly short of a maiden win against the Chiefs in New Zealand tonight, with a 22-21 loss to the New Zealand conference front-runners at ECOLight Stadium.
While the visitors outscored the reigning Super Rugby champions two tries to one, with Force winger Patrick Dellit snaring both five-pointers, and fought back from a 19-11 half-time deficit, they were unable to make up final margin, returning with a losing bonus point for their efforts.
Emirates Western Force Head Coach Michael Foley said despite the result, his side took another step in their overall development tonight.
“I’m very pleased with the effort there [tonight],” he said. “We’re restless about results and we want results and you sense that in the playing group as well.
“Six months ago they set a very high level for themselves. Over the last month or so there’s been a couple of times where it would have been very easy to back off a bit and they’ve actually pushed harder. The fact that they’re out there against one of the best sides in the comp putting in a performance like that suggests that they are making progress.
“To the people outside looking in, wins and losses are all that matter; but to get more wins we have to go through some of these times.
“We are ambitious, we’re not satisfied with a loss, but at the same time we’ve recognised that there’s some progress being made.”
The Emirates Western Force got off to a dream start when Dellit toed through a bouncing Matt Hodgson pass for the opening try after just three minutes.
Flyhalf Aaron Cruden responded with a Chiefs penalty goal before winger Lelia Masaga extended the lead when he snuck down a short blindside to score in the corner, with Cruden’s conversion putting the home side out to a 10-5 lead.
Cruden and Force fullback Jayden Hayward exchanged penalty goals through the remainder of the half, with Cruden’s four penalties providing his side with an eight-point buffer at the break.
Leading 19-11, Cruden extended the advantage to 11-points four minutes into the new term, when the Force earned the ire of referee Mike Fraser on their own scrum feed.
Another Hayward penalty at the 58-minute mark restored the half-time margin, before winger Nick Cummins put the Force on the front foot within the Chiefs quarter. The Force then swung the ball to the right before returning it to the left where Dellit found space in the defensive line to cross for his second and draw his side to within one point at 22-21.
Having defended valiantly in the final 10 minutes – including being a man down with Kieran Longbottom in the sin bin, the Force had an opportunity to steal the win in the final minutes, with a long-range Sias Ebersohn penalty attempt from within his own half falling short.
The Emirates Western Force returns to Perth tomorrow before squaring off against the Sharks at nib Stadium on Friday, 17 May.