SYDNEY (Reuters) - The Western Force edged the Port Elizabeth-based Kings 46-41 for their second win of the season as the two teams most likely to be cut from Super Rugby for next year played out a 12-try thriller at Perth Oval on Sunday.
Fullback Malcolm Jaer grabbed a hat-trick as the visitors, marshalled superbly by flyhalf Lionel Cronje, gave a masterclass in counter-attacking rugby in a thrill-a-minute second half.
The Force always had the edge up front, however, and a penalty try as well as a late score from loose forward Ben McCalman allowed the hosts to get back in front in the final quarter.
The match between the two teams that finished bottom of last year’s standings was played out against the backdrop of the restructuring of Super Rugby for next year, which was announced soon after the final whistle.
The loss of two South African teams means the almost certain departure of the Kings, while the financially ailing Force are odds-on favourites to be the single Australian team to go.
“I‘m just happy we won, I would have taken half a point given the circumstances,” said Force coach Dave Wessels.
“To be able to control our emotions towards the back end of the game and to able to come back and win it was pretty special.”
Force flyhalf Jonno Lance opened the scoring from the kicking tee in the seventh minute and two minutes later started and finished a sensational move for the first try of the match.
The Kings hit back in the 26th minute when prop Justin Forwood touched down off the back of a rolling maul but winger Alex Newsome scored on the overlap to send the Force into the break 15-7 up.
The Kings stormed back with two tries in three minutes straight after the restart, Cronje setting up the first for winger Yaw Penxe with a break out of defence and Jaer grabbing the other also on the counter-attack.
Dane Haylett-Petty forced his way over to give the Force back the lead again but winger Makazole Mapimpi almost immediately claimed a neat Cronje chip through to put the visitors 24-22 ahead.
Lance kicked his second penalty to put the Force back in front just before the hour mark but Cronje then conjured up a piece of magic to give Jaer his second try.
The 27-year-old rolled the ball around his midriff before sending a grubber kick through the bamboozled defence for Jaer to race onto, the fullback grabbing his third two minutes later from an interception.
That gave the Kings a 38-25 lead with 17 minutes remaining but the Force cut the deficit almost immediately when a Cronje clearance was charged down and Newsome scored his second try.
The home side got their noses back in front when their pack crushed the Kings at a five-metre scrum for a penalty try and a well executed catch-and-drive sent McCalman over to put a gloss on the score.
“Sometimes bravery is just a quiet person who rocks up and does his job with intensity,” Wessels added.
“Being able to put aside everything that’s happening off the pitch and put in a performance is pretty special, I think.”
Reporting by Nick Mulvenney, editing by Amlan Chakraborty