March 26, 2023
The Western Force's struggles in New Zealand have continued with a 30-17 loss to the highly professional Blues.
The Force made the Blues work for it early and didn't concede a try until the 29th minute, but were ultimately put away comfortably at Eden Park in their second straight defeat.
It leaves them still searching for their first win against an New Zealand-based side since returning to the competition in 2021, without a victory in seven attempts.
The Perth side matched it with opponents at the breakdown and forced some early penalties, although a missed shot at goal combined with Gareth Simpson failing to find touch from a kick meant they had no points to show for it.
But strong scrum work and their stubborn line meant the Blues needed something special for their first try, delivered in spades by Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens.
The winger soared over his Force opponent and hung in the air, somehow grounding the ball successfully while falling on his back.
It was what they deserved on the balance of play and it seemed to break the Force's resistance, with Ofa Tu'ungafasi powering over soon after for 18-0.
Force skipper Michael Wells dragged some points back before the half via a clever kick from fullback Chase Tiatia, while Toni Pulu scored in the second half to quickly answer Blue Mark Telea's effort to make the score 23-10.
Ricky Riccitelli extended the margin quickly and the Blues iced the game, with Force winger Zach Kibirige finding a late consolation try with a brilliant run two minutes from time.
Centre Sam Spink shone for the Force with some powerful runs, two monster hit-ups helping build Wells' try in a strong display.
Simon Cron's side move to 2-3 for the season but stay 10th on the table, with only the NSW Waratahs and Moana Pasifika behind them.
It was yet another reminder of NZ's Super Rugby domination, their teams 8-1 this season when playing against Australian sides.
Blues 30 (Jacob Ratumaintavuki-Kneepkens, Ofa Tuungafasi, Mark Telea, Ricky Riccitelli tries, Stephen Perofeta 2 pen, 2 con) Western Force 17 (Michael Wells, Toni Pulu, Zach Kibirige tries, Hamish Stewart con)
BLUES (1-15): Joshua Fusitu’a, Kurt Eklund, Ofa Tuungafasi, James Tucker, Cameron Suafoa, Anton Segner, Adrian Choat, Hoskins Sotutu, Sam Nock, Stephen Perofeta, Mark Telea, Harry Plummer (c), Bryce Heem, Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens, Zarn Sullivan
RESERVES: Ricky Riccitelli, Jordan Lay, Marcel Renata, Tom Robinson, Sam Darry, Taine Plumtree, Taufa Funaki, Corey Evans
FORCE (1-15): Angus Wagner, Folau Fainga’a, Santiago Medrano, Felix Kalapu, Jeremy Williams, Michael Wells (c), Tim Anstee, Rahboni Vosayaco, Gareth Simpson, Hamish Stewart, Toni Pulu, Bayley Kuenzle, Sam Spink, Zach Kibirige, Chase Tiatia
RESERVES: Tom Horton, Marley Pearce, Siosifa Amone, Ryan McCauley, Ollie Callan, Issak Fines-Leleiwasa, Jake Strachan, George Poolman
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe
Assistant Referees: Stu Curran, Jackson Henshaw
Job done pic.twitter.com/GOL5JNvzUP— The Blues (@BluesRugbyTeam) March 26, 2023