‘It hurts’: Force’s season goes from bad to worse as Lealiifano, Kepu lead Moana Pasifika to upset win


The Western Force’s year has gone from bad to worse after slumping to a demoralising 22-14 loss to Moana Pasifika on Friday night in Perth.

The defeat was their fourth straight to start the season, as Simon Cron’s hopes of turning the Force into genuine finals contenders took a massive hit.

On a night of frustration, Cron’s side spurned chances, gave away penalties at will and ultimately were made to pay.

“Obviously, our discipline is a big issue,” first-year skipper Jeremy Williams said.

“It’s hard to win games when you just piggyback teams down field. We got desperate and started throwing those 50-50 offloads and kept turning the ball over.”

Asked how to fix it, Williams said the Force needed to address their issues around the breakdown.

“We’ve just got to be really clean and accurate around the breakdown,” he said.

“We got a couple there, but that stuff really hurts us and, if we’re getting penalised a lot, we’ve got to leave that breakdown alone and get momentum back. It hurts.”

Kyren Taumoefolau of Moana Pasifika runs in for a try against the Western Force at HBF Park, on March 15, 2024, in Perth. (Photo by Paul Kane/Getty Images)

The tone of the evening’s series of blunders was on display early in the ninth minute, as Will Harris failed to deliver the simple final pass to send his teammate Issak Fines-Leleiwasa into score.

Instead, the Test halfback spilt the pass and the opportunity, which was superbly set up by another Ben Donaldson linebreak, was blown.

It didn’t get much better throughout the rest of the evening.

While the Force were wasteful, Moana Pasifika took their chances.

It started when hooker Sama Malolo crossed in the 17th minute.

The Force managed to get one back three minutes later when Chase Tiatia’s chip-kick sat up beautifully and Bayley Kuenzle scored. Donaldson added the extras to give the home side a slender two-point lead.

But a yellow card to Carlo Tizzano for a clash of heads with Moana’s fullback Danny Toala saw the flanker sent to the sin bin in the crucial 10 minutes leading up to half time.

It didn’t take look for the visitors to strike, as former Wallaby Sekope Kepu scored from a lovely tap play that fooled the home side.

A tap play special from @MoanaPasifika_

The veteran Sekope Kepu rolls in for his first Super Rugby try since 2018!#SuperRugbyPacific #FORvMOA pic.twitter.com/NBGgFJOC5S

— Super Rugby Pacific (@SuperRugby) March 15, 2024

A lovely turn of pace from Kyren Taumoefolau early in the second half then saw Moana Pasifika take the margin out to 12 points.

Tizzano’s try reduced the deficit to five points, but a long-range effort from William Havili, who replaced Julian Savea early in the match, in the 72nd minute gave the visitors some breathing space. They never looked back.

The Force had a couple of late chances to give themselves a late chance, but the home side was unable to break Moana Pasifika through the middle and instead resorted to going side to side. It backfired.

The defeat leaves the Force in danger of having their year spiral out of control, with a must-win match against the Reds to come before going on the road to Fiji and then New Zealand to take on the Blues in Auckland.

In contrast, Moana Pasifika claimed their second win of the season, as last year’s cellar dwellers recorded another important victory before taking on the Brumbies next Friday.

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