The West

Perth Spirit overcame a gulf of Super Rugby experience to notch up a 28-23 win in the first round of the inaugural National Rugby Championship over the Vikings in Canberra on Saturday.

The Vikings were heavily tipped to win, boasting 11 Brumbies led by playmaker Christian Lealiifano who was released from the Wallabies camp to play, and with almost 300 Super Rugby games between them.

Wallabies full-back Jesse Mogg also started for the Canberra side.

In contrast, the Spirit had seven Force players but with less than 100 appearances, and more than one third of those have been made by hooker Heath Tessmann.

The rest of the 23-man squad was made up of Perth competition club players.

Spirit were also forced to overcome two sin bins that reduced them to 13 players in the second half and almost gave the Vikings the chance to snatch a win after the visitors had opened up an early 13-point lead.

The revamped NRC points structure has three points for a conversion and two for a penalty to encourage running rugby and the Spirit turned down several chances to take an easy shot at goal early in the match to chase tries.

They ran in two before the break from Zack Holmes and Dillyn Leyds but then finding themselves 10 points down with time running out went in for two more from Tessman and Ammon Matuauto.

Coach Dave Wessels was pleased with the workrate from his side particularly when they were down to 13 players.

"We put a lot of pressure on their stars and that stifled the way they were able to play. A lot of that came through heart, the guys wanting to give it a crack," Wessels said.

"We tended to outwork them as a group

"The way the guys worked for 80 minutes, the way they emptied the tank was pleasing, and when we were down to 13 man the guys really worked hard not to let the game get away.

"The message was that we knew things weren't always going to be perfect but our effort mattered most and as long as we were prepared to keep working the results would go our way in the end.

"There is certainly room for improvement but on the back of the fact that we have only been training together for three weeks we did really well."

The West Australian

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