Force push hard but fall short against Blues
WHEN a team has the upper hand it needs to take the game by the scruff of the neck - release that grip and you end up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
Just ask the Western Force.
Once again they loosened their grip at crucial moments and went down 24-15 to the Blues in Eden Park, their fifth consecutive loss to the Auckland-based side.
They were ahead for 38 minutes and playing as if their lives depended on it - which may well be the case with a decision on their future closing in - but they could not keep a hold on that neck.
They dropped their intensity just long enough to let the Blues back into the game and particularly when Isi Naisarani - who otherwise had an outstanding game - was sent to the bin on the 28-minute mark.
With the No.8 on the sidelines and the Blues finally bringing their big runners into the game they scored quick back-to back tries through flanker Akira Ioane and winger Matt Duffie. Piers Francis converted the first.
It gave them the Blues a 12-8 lead at the break after Jono Lance had slotted a penalty and second-rower Richie Arnold scored his first try in his second appearance.
But the Blues did not crack the game open until they ran in two late long-range tries, from Rieko Ioane and Michael Collins, while full-back Dane Haylett-Petty finished off a long-range break for the Force in the dying minutes.
The Force deserve credit for the way they played, forcing the Blues to scrap for everything before those telling lapses in concentration - but getting credit alone does not win games.
They showed plenty of enterprise and intent, challenged the Blues defence and were not afraid to counter-attack from deep in their own half.
They certainly did not look like a side with one of the worst attacking statistics in the competition.
They lifted their defensive work and led by inspirational captain Matt Hodgson they smashed the rucks to control the tempo and frustrate the Blues.
But once again they could not maintain the intensity for 80 minutes.
They were disrupted before the game when flanker Kane Koteka was ruled out after failing a concussion test.
Coach Dave Wessels was forced to bring in a third hooker, Heath Tessmann, with no other players available in the tour squad and then after just eight minutes they lost in-form scrum-half Ryan Louwrens with a knee injury.