The Western Force are fast proving genuine Super Rugby title contenders after extending their winning run to five matches.
The Brumbies retain top spot but the Western Force are the talk of the Australian conference after extending their record Super Rugby winning streak to five matches with a gritty victory over the NSW Waratahs.
The Force juggernaut powered into fourth position overall and leapfrogged the Waratahs into second in the Australian conference thanks largely to a try-scoring hat-trick to Wallabies winger Nick Cummins in Saturday night’s 28-16 win in Perth.
The Brumbies consolidated first place in the Australian conference with an equally impressive 23-20 derby win over the Queensland Reds in Brisbane – but it’s the Force who are commanding new-found respect.
If the star-studded Waratahs, with a near-Test strength outfit, can be considered title contenders, so can the Force on the back of their eye-catching club-record run.
Success over NSW has not only put the squeeze on the fifth-placed Waratahs, but also leaves the Force well placed to climb higher up the ladder on Friday night with victory over the battling Rebels in Melbourne.
“It’s fantastic to win that game and to have won five straight. It’s just reward for a lot of hard work by the players,” Force coach Michael Foley said.
“We were playing a very powerful and talented side who knows how to use the ball well.
“And when you consider that just a few weeks ago they put six tries into us, to go out there and do what our guys did was an immense effort.”
Israel Folau and Waratahs coach Michael Cheika were furious the ARU overruled the NSW club doctor and ordered the Wallabies fullback not to play because of a throat injury.
Cheika said the disruption hurt the Tahs, but nevertheless praised the Force for their spirit after the home team also lost fullback Jayden Hayward before kickoff and had to rush in Dane Haylett-Petty for a start after playing 60 minutes of club rugby earlier in the day.
“Full credit to them, I take nothing away from them,” said Cheika, who also insisted it wasn’t panic stations at the Waratahs despite two defeats from their past three starts.
“There’s a long way to go. We’re not only halfway through yet.”
The Brumbies’ important away win leaves the 2013 Super runners-up well placed atop the Australian conference before their mid-season bye.
Second overall, the Brumbies after three points ahead of the Force, five in front of the Waratahs and nine clear of the Reds.
The Rebels, 10 points adrift of the Force, are next to no chance of making the finals after falling 22-16 to the reigning champion Chiefs in Hamilton on Saturday.
The Chiefs’ hard-earned win left the titleholders five points clear atop the New Zealand conference, and third overall behind the Sharks and Brumbies.
The Sharks are nine points clear of the Bulls in the South African conference after scoring a 25-12 win over the Lions in Johannesburg.