Charles clinches late Force winner
Nathan Charles' late try kept the Western Force firmly in the Super Rugby play-off hunt as they beat the Queensland Reds 30-20 at the NIB Stadium, even though the result should have been sown up long before then.
Nick Cummins came out the traps like a man possessed, scoring a try and having a hand in Ben McCalman's touchdown as the Force raced into a 17-3 lead.
It looked like the Reds could get a bit of a hiding, but tries from debutant Samu Kerevi and Albert Anae helped to drag it back to 20-20 with less than 15 minutes to go.
Jayden Hayward banished the memory of two easy penalty misses to split the posts and nudge the Force back in front, before Charles darted over to secure what could be a winner-takes-all clash with the Brumbies next week.
Cummins, who leaves the Force to play in Japan after the end of the current Super Rugby season, seemed determined to put on a show in front of his home fans.
He smashed Rod Davies into touch straight from a restart after Mike Harris kicked the Reds into a 3-0 lead after seven minutes. It was from this field position, and statement of intent, that the hosts eventually worked an opportunity for Cummins to go over in the corner for his 16th Super Rugby try.
Hayward added the extras and then slotted a penalty to extend the Force's lead, before Cummins combined well with Chris Tuatara-Morrison to unleash lock Sam Wykes on a back-pedalling, panicking, Reds defence.
Wykes' cool offload set McCalman through to the line and he made no mistake, with Hayward once again converting.
Just before the half-hour mark Hugh McMeniman was sin binned for a dropping a knee into Ben Lucas' back on the ground and that let the Reds back into the game.
Kerevi, whose powerful running was a constant threat at 13, took advantage of some woeful tackling to score his first-ever Super Rugby try to make it 17-10 at the break.
Despite being back to 15 men, the Force suddenly seemed nervy at almost every opportunity as the Reds started to ask more questions.
This was epitomised by Hayward, who missed two easy penalties before kicking one over in the 52nd minute to add the first points of the second half.
But the Reds played on the hosts' nerves and Anae went over at the back of a rolling maul, with Harris converting, to reduce the arrears to three points.
The Reds could hardly believe their luck after such an indifferent display, especially when Harris' penalty levelled the scores shortly after.
However, the hosts managed to rally with Hayward notching a penalty and then converting Charles' opportunist touchdown to secure the win in the end.
The victory takes the Force level on points with the sixth-placed Brumbies, who they face at Canberra Stadium in the final game of the regular season next week.