Force deny Highlanders
The Force denied the Highlanders a second win of the season, when the home team scored a dramatic 19-18 win in Perth on Saturday.
The Western Force denied the Highlanders a second win of the season, when the home team scored a dramatic 19-18 win in Perth on Saturday.
It is a result leaves the Highlanders firmly rooted at the bottom of the standing, seven points behind the second-to-last Force.
They are both lowly sides in Super Rugby and yet the match became more and more compelling, especially the last 10 minutes when the lead twice changed hands and the losers came close to scoring. Partly there was the interest in the fate of the Highlanders, so often so near but just too far.
The Force dominated the early exchanges to the delight of their home crowd, but it was not try-scoring stuff till Jayden Hayward took a hand. The Force used many phases and with each passing phase looked less likely to score a try. Mind you, most of the time one pass counted as a phase.
Their first set had 25 phases, up and down the Highlanders' line, till they lost the ball and Aaron Smith cleared.
They changed tack. Their next set started with many passes per phase and then they went right where Sias Ebersohn did a loop around and Hayward came in from fullback. He beat two and passed to his right where Ebersohn dived over in the corner. Hayward converted from touch. 4-0 after 17 minutes.
After this the scoring was by [penalty only.
Hayden Parker got one when Alby Mathewson was offside for the first time, then Hayward got one when Aaron Smith deliberately knocked the ball forward into touch and then Parker got another when Matt Hodgson was penalised at a tackle. 10-6 after 27 minutes.
Kyle Godwin shook himself clear and put in a strong run downfield. Hayward grubbered for Patrick Dellit and the Highlanders carried over, but nothing came of the five-metre scrum.
Early in the second half the delightful Ben Smith had a long run in counterattack, and then Colin Slade came on for Parker.
His first act was to goal a penalty when Mathewson rushed to go offside. 10-9 after 47 minutes but almost immediately Hayward goaled a penalty for obstruction and then Slade kicked a second, this time when Toby Lynn was penalised at a ruck. 13-12. That was three penalty goals in three minutes. It seemed that the game was about to degenerate into a penalty shoot-out.
Hayward had a run and grubber but the admirable Ben Smith saved.
Thorn was penalised to taking away the support player in a line-out. 16-12 after 57 minutes.
The Highlanders had the best attack of the evening as their backs swung into action. It seemed that all Mose Tuiali'i had to do was to fall down for the try but he seemed to have stage-fright and was pushed back.
Mathewson, who was penalised three times in the match, was sent to the sin bin for a tackle infringement. The Highlanders opted for a five-metre scrum and attacked. Ma'a Nonu got to the post but the TMO could not see if he struck post and ground with the ball at the same time. The Highlanders tapped a scrum free kick and ran. Nonu had Ben Smith on his outside but tried to bash his way to the line - in vain. They attacked again and Tuiali'i was close again but the Force won a turnover off him and cleared.
Heath Tessmann was penalised at a tackle. 16-15 with 11 minutes to go as the excitement rose as the Highlanders attacked and the Force defended.
The Force were penalised a maul and Slade took the angled kick. It was a horrible attempt that flew wide to the right. But then Richard Brown was penalised for a high tackle and from 51 metres Slade kicked the goal that put his side 18-16 ahead with some four minutes to play.
Tino Nemani was a replacement on the right wing for the Highlanders. He chased a kick but his chase was not quick enough. When Nemani got there Hayward had kicked the ball. He was still in the air. But Nemani went ahead with the tackle and was penalised. Hayward recovered and kicked the goal which won the match.
There were still two minutes to play and the Highlanders won Slade's looping kick-off and attacked. A try was distinctly possible till the ball slipped from Slade's grasp.
Man of the match: The two fullbacks - Ben Smith and Jayden Hayward were magnificent. Our choice of Man of the Match is Jayden Hayward who made the only try, ran strongly, caught cleanly and kicked the goals that counted, from difficult conversion to final penalty.
For the Western Force:
Pens: Hayward 4
For the Highlanders:
Pens: Parker 2, Slade 4
Yellow card: Alby Mathewson (Western Force, 61 - professional foul, playing the scrumhalf)
Western Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Patrick Dellit, 13 Ben Jacobs, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Junior Rasolea, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Matt Hodgson (captain), 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Heath Tessmann, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 James Hilterbrand, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Rory Walton, 19 Richard Brown, 20 Brett Sheehan, 21 Will Tupou, 22 Sam Norton-Knight.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Jason Emery, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 John Hardie, 6 TJ Ioane, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn (captain), 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Joe Wheeler, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Colin Slade, 22 Tino Nemani.
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant referees: Ian Smith (Australia), Michael Hogan (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)