The Global Rapid Rugby Asian Showcase Series got the entertaining finale this revolutionary new rugby format deserved today when Western Force beat the FWD South China Tigers 40-16 today to conclude the tournament’s debut appearance in Asia.

The Tigers outplayed the Force in the opening half and were leading shortly before the break, 13-9, but a late try for the Force handed them the momentum for a devastating second stanza when they posted four tries while the Tigers could only muster a penalty in reply.

Western Force entered the game having claimed the first Asian Showcase Series title, which it will put on the line later this month against teams from Fiji and Samoa to settle the global bragging rights.

But second place was up for grabs this afternoon, with the Tigers level with Singapore’s Asia Pacific Dragons on six points on the table, after the two Asian entries split their home and away series. Both teams also dropped their games against the Force, leaving the Tigers with a chance to claim sole share of second this afternoon.

Things looked to be on track after the first 35 minutes, with a strong performance from the Tigers seeing them recover from an early stumble, when they conceded a nine-point Power Try scored by winger Brad Lacey, in the opening minute, to dominate territory and possession for the rest of the first half.

The Tigers looked to have scored their first ever Power Try moments after the Force claimed theirs, when wing Tom Varndell started a break from deep inside his red zone. Some pretty open field passing moved the ball to the Force’s try-line on the opposite side of the pitch where Varndell popped up perfectly in support for what looked like a long-range score. But Varndell was judged by the televised match official to have knocked on in the grounding and the try was called back.

The Tigers redoubled the pressure, creating two penalty opportunities for fly half Matt Rosslee over the next ten minutes. Rosslee slotted both to claw the Tigers back to 6-9 after the opening quarter.

The Tigers were rewarded again moments later when Liam Slatem capped off a rush from deep started by Jack Neville, who has excelled in the Global Rapid Rugby format since joining mid-campaign from the Hong Kong Sevens squad, to score the Tigers first try of the match. While there was an initial question of whether Neville’s attack started from behind his 22-metre line, making it a Power Try, he was ultimately was deemed to have started just beyond his line.

The five-pointer proved just as useful for the Tigers as the nine-pointer would have been as they claimed the first lead of the match at 13-9 after Rosslee’s conversion.

The lead was short-lived however as the Force started to establish their presence. A sustained period of attack for the Force gave them their first real opportunity to build multiple phases and they quickly made Tigers pay for that with vice-captain Brynard Stander crashing over under the crossbar to restore their lead at 16-13 at half time.

With just three points separating the sides it was anyone’s game in the second half and for the first 10 minutes it was another arm wrestle with both teams having glimpses at adding to their tally. But as the game wore on, the Tigers’ second half woes resurfaced, and from then on it was almost exclusively one way traffic for the Perth-based outfit with AJ Alatimu starting the scoring with a try to bring the margin out to 10 points, the biggest of the game to date. A second try to Stander was followed tries to Jack McGregor and Feleti Kaitu’u as the Force got their running game established.

Tigers only reply came from a late penalty strike from Glyn Hughes as the Force pulled away running out 40-16 winners.

It was a disappointing conclusion for Craig Hammond, but the Tigers coach is pleased to have the experience under his belt as they prepare now for the first full season of Global Rapid Rugby in 2020.

“In the first half, we put some really good phases and defensive sets together and had a few opportunities to score the Power Try, but just missed out on both of those, which was a bit disappointing. The second half, we couldn't get out of our 22 for the first 225 minutes, and when we did we knocked the ball on.

“Not a great finish, but it was a good effort from the boys and I am pleased that we have seen massive improvement over the Series. Against them in Perth they really pushed us around in the scrum, but today we held our own and that comes down to a lot of hard work in training. There has already been a massive improvement for us over the series.”

The side concludes their opening campaign knowing both that improvement is necessary and that they are not too far off the pace, according to co-captain Liam Slatem.

“The Force are a quality side and they had some decent momentum to play off and were more clinical than us. We lost the ball a few times in scoring position or turned it over a bit and they made us pay. It’s not surprising as they are quality, but if you look at that first half, it proves we are not too far off the pace here and I think it is a good and exciting learning curve for us going forward.”

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