Tough going ... Salesi Manu looks to break through the Cheetahs' defence. Photo: Getty Images
THEY lose their head coach, Richard Graham, to the Reds. Then Will Genia does an about face and opts not to move to Perth. Now the Force discover that when on the road, it can feel as if everyone is out to get them.
The frustrations for the Force intensified yesterday when they suffered a tight loss to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, which could have easily been a triumph if refereeing decisions had gone their way.
Hours after the Force's four-point loss, players and officials were still trying to comprehend several questionable refereeing decisions by Stuart Berry in an ill-tempered match regularly punctuated by onfield scuffles.
The Force players often appeared staggered by Berry's rulings, with their captain, David Pocock, repeatedly querying the referee. His team were noticeably irritated and their discipline deteriorated at crucial times, prompting several more penalties against them.
The Force lost the penalty count 18-6, but the most crucial call came just before half-time when winger Samu Wara's try, which would have given the tourists a two-point lead, was disallowed due to a previous offence. Berry was alerted by his assistant referee that Force prop Salesi Ma'afu had interfered with the course of play by putting a high tackle on the Cheetahs No.8 Philip van der Walt. From the next play, Wara scored on the other side of the field.
The Force rallied after half-time, taking the lead when Winston Stanley charged down a kick to score but the Cheetahs replied with an Adriaan Strauss try and a penalty goal.
Interim Force coach Phil Blake described some of the refereeing as ''bewildering'', and the disallowed Wara try as a ''huge turning point''.
''It was a very frustrating evening, finding it hard to get into the game because we never had the possession and the penalty count was so high,'' Blake said.
Cheetahs second-rower Andries Ferreira was later cited for alleged foul play following a high tackle on Force back-rower Matt Hodgson in the final minutes.
Ferreira bound Hodgson around the neck at the breakdown, and then flung him to the ground. Shortly after, a groggy Hodgson had to be replaced.
Meanwhile, Rebels forward Luke Jones was suspended for two weeks after a guilty plea for a dangerous tackle on Bulls winger Bjorn Basson.
Patrick Lambie scored all the Sharks' points in their 28-16 win over the Highlanders in Durban. Lambie kicked seven penalties, scored a try and converted it. The Highlanders long injured list included forward Doug Tietjens, his replacement, Elliot Dixon, and fullback Tamati Ellison.