The Western Force have set up a cut-throat last round match-up with the Brumbies on Friday following a 30-20 Super Rugby win over the Queensland Reds at nib Stadium.
The Force raced to a 17-3 lead, but the Reds wanted to spoil their party and had levelled scores at 20-20 with just over 10 minutes remaining.
However, the Force then found something and hooker Nathan Charles scored the match-winning try in the 73rd minute, moving the Force to 40 points and equal with the Brumbies in the overall standings.
The winner of Friday night’s clash in Canberra between the Brumbies and Force will now play finals in 2014.
The Force’s early dominance began with a try to Nick Cummins after nine minutes and it was his good work tackling Rod Davies into touch that set up the opportunity.
He got set up then from a good pass from Sam Wykes, broke a tackle of Davies and cruised over the try line.
Cummins was the focus coming into the game with the Wallabies winger of 15 Tests granted an early release from his 2015 contract to play in Japan.
The Force were soon up 17-3 when Ben McCalman was awarded a try that was set up by a run from Chris Tuatara Morrison, and good lead up work by Wykes and Cummins.
But the game started going the Reds way following a brain snap by Force lock Hugh McMeniman who dropped a knee to a grounded Ben Lucas.
That saw him receive a yellow card and while in the sin-bin, the Reds got on the board with run-on debutant Samu Kerevi scoring a soft try.
Harris’ conversion cut the Force’s lead to 17-10 at halftime and the home team missed two penalties by Hayward to keep the Reds in it.
Hayward nailed his third attempt to put the Force 20-10 up, but the Reds were still in the contest and even more so after Albert Anae scored the first try of his career on the back of a rolling maul.
Scores were level when Harris landed another penalty, but Hayward kicked one of his own to before Charles’ try iced the contest.
Force coach Michael Foley was delighted with his team’s response from last weekend’s loss to the Blues to keep their season alive.
“Last week was a pretty scratchy performance for us and we were really honest about it early in the week, it hurt us and so it should have,” Foley said.
“We didn’t play our best footy of this year, but we got the win and we had to get that win to keep us alive and that’s really important to even go beyond winning eight games which is one better than the club’s best ever performance. We just have to play better next week.”
Reds coach Richard Graham was unhappy both with his team’s start to the game and the refereeing decisions as it unfolded.
“In the first 15 minutes we weren’t in the contest at all and when we got ourselves back into the contest we didn’t build any continuity and turned the ball over too easily,” Graham said.
“We couldn’t build any pressure that way and I probably don’t think that we got the rub of the green which made it quite difficult for us.”
McMeniman’s original yellow card for kneeing Lucas has now been upgraded to a red card by the citing commissioner and is being considered by judicial officer Nicholas Davidson QC who will decide on the penalty to offer the Force flanker.