Saturday, 14 July 2012
Retiring lock Nathan Sharpe says he's sad his Super Rugby days have come to an end, but the 34-year-old was proud of the Western Force's second-half fightback in their 38-24 loss to the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday night.
The Force were torn to bits by the Crusaders in the first half, with the seven-time champions running in four unanswered tries to lead 32-3 at the break.
The first-half blitzkrieg wasn't the way the Force wanted to celebrate Sharpe's record 162nd and final Super appearance, with the players making a half-time pact to put in a more determined effort.
The straight-shooting team talk worked a treat, with the Force running in second-half tries through 19-year-old five-eighth Kyle Godwin, fullback Alfie Mafi and reserve scrumhalf Josh Holmes to at least give Sharpe something to cheer about.
Sharpe, the club's inaugural captain, appreciated the fightback, but was still coming to terms with the end of his Force career after the match.
"For three weeks I've been counting down this moment. It's sad but when I made the decision I knew this was on the cards," Sharpe said.
"I'm sure as time goes by I'll reflect a bit more, but at the moment I'm just going to enjoy it."
The win secured the Crusaders fourth spot and a home quarter-final.
The Crusaders had the four-try bonus point in the bag by halftime, but two of those tries were highly dubious after being sent to the TMO.
Fullback Israel Dagg clearly lost control of the ball as he touched down in the corner after 42 seconds, while halfback Andy Ellis made a double movement when he barged over in the 34th minute.
Sharpe was perplexed at the decisions to award the tries, and stand-in coach Phil Blake was equally confused.
"The first one was definitely not a try," Blake said.
"They had a little luck in that regard I thought."
Crusaders winger Sean Maitland and flanker Matt Todd crossed in fairer fashion to put their side in a dominant position by the break, but the Crusaders took their foot off the gas from that point on as they emptied their bench.
Season 2012 will be remembered as a disastrous one for the Force, who lost coach Richard Graham midway through their campaign before finishing with a dismal 3-13 record.
But the Force hope a new era will begin when they announce their new coach early next week, with Heineken Cup-winning coach Michael Cheika expected to get the nod.