WELLINGTON, New Zealand – A yellow card proved costly for the Western force as the Auckland Blues rallied to win their Super Rugby encounter 24-15 at Eden Park on Saturday.
While Isi Naisarani was off the field Blues scored two tries and piled on 12 points with the Force ultimately losing by nine.
As the Blues banked their third win from six matches, it lifted them off the bottom of the New Zealand conference and extended New Zealand's dominance over Australian sides to 8-0 this season.
Force captain Matt Hodgson said the yellow card proved very costly.
"We lost a player to the bin and they scored two tries and they got some momentum there," he said.
"There were some lapses in defence and they scored three long range tries."
Blues skipper James Parsons readily conceded it was not a great performance by his side.
"We didn't execute well out of our own half," Parsons said. "We'll enjoy the win but we've got plenty to work on."
The Force, who yielded 45 points to the Canterbury Crusaders last week and are battling to show they deserve to remain in a trimmed down competition, controlled the first 20 minutes.
They exploited holes around the Blues ruck, and with a Jono Lance penalty and a Richie Arnold try, when the big lock drove over from close range, they were 8-0 ahead with the Blues struggling to get their game under way.
But the match turned when back rower Naisarani was sent to the sin bin for not retreating when the Blues took a tap penalty in the shadow the posts.
While the Force were reduced to 14 men, the Blues scored a try through replacement loose forward Akira Ioane and one to wing Matt Duffie who finished off a 70-metre counter-attack sparked by George Moala.
With Piers Frances converting Ioane's try the Blues turned with a 12-8 lead.
In a ragged second half, the Force restored to their full complement of players pressured the tryline only to lose the ball and see the Blues reply with long-range tries finished off by Reiko Ioane and Michael Collins.
With time almost up, the Force managed to score a Dane Haylett-Petty try to deny the Blues a bonus point.
The Blues next week play the Otago Highlanders who slip back to the bottom of the New Zealand conference while the Force, with one win from six games, play the Southern Kings in Perth.