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Force too strong for Highlanders

Sat, 15 Mar 2014 08:18
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Clearly there is great spirit and great heart in this year's team from Perth
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Despite ending the match with 13 men the Force held on for a 31-29 bonus-point victory over the Highlanders in Dunedin on Saturday.

Resilience. The reward for Force resilience was five points from a victory in Dunedin. That in itself is a feat but to do it with 13 men for the last eight minutes of the match and concede only one try far out at the end of that time took great resilience. Clearly there is great spirit and great heart in this year's team from Perth.

The Force scored four tries to three but the Highlanders kicked four penalties to one. But then the penalty count was 14-5 in the Highlanders' favour and, in addition, the Force were shorn of two players simultaneously.

The most telling penalty was the sanctionary combo near the end.

A penalty set the Highlanders on the attack and Malakai Fekitoa beat three defenders as he drove at the line where Ian Prior hauled him down to set up an enthusiastic ruck. Then came the double whammy. Adam Coleman was penalised for an infringement considered cynical and sent to the sin bin. But in an incident in the same action but after Coleman's, Ben McCalman spoilt a great display when, the ball loose, he performed a tip tackle on Kane Hames who did not have the ball and was no threat to the Force. McCalman followed Coleman to the sin bin.

After that the Highlanders had two five-metre scrums against the Force and on each occasion they tried to shove the Force and on both occasions the Force resisted. That's resilience.

In that time the Highlanders, seven points behind, turned a penalty into a five-metre line-out and mauled. They were over the line but the Force held them up. That's resilience.

They had a five metre scrum and bashed. Josh Bekhuis was close and then the Highlanders went wide left where Hayden Parker scooted over for a try about seven metres in from touch. Time was up as Parker attempted the conversion that would tie the match . It looked on target but fell short, and the final whistle went to the joy of the resilient Force.

Their resilience was praiseworthy - and so was a Highlander's honesty.

The Highlanders kicked off but the Force were the first to attack as the mauled their first line-out and got closer and closer till they went wide left where Nathan Charles - a hooker, look you - with two men outside him threw an dummy and scored in Liam Coltman's attempted tackle. Ebersohn converted. 7-0 after 4 minutes.

Then it was the Highlanders turn to attack. Matt Hodgson was penalised at a tackle and Lima Sopoaga goaled. Back they came again and two penalties gave them successive five-metre line-outs. Then came the golden moment of the match.

Eager Aaron Smith was over under  the posts in a mass of players. The referee took a concentrated  look but could not see a grounding. He was about to talk to the TMO when Aaron Smith told him he had not scored. It was a golden moment.

But Junior Rasolea had been offside. 7-6 after 15 minutes. said Ebersohn, who had an otherwise splendid match, kicked dead which produced a scrum at the middle of the half-way line at which Alby Mathewson went offside and Sapoaga gave his side a 9-7 lead after 17 minutes.

Hooker Coltman fumbled a pass and then threw a long, looping pass to his left. Ebersohn darted forward, leapt high and intercepted for a 50-metre run to the posts. 14-9 after 25 minutes.

The Highlanders attacked. Richard Buckman had a powerful run down the right as he beat four would-be tacklers till Jayden Hayward pulled him down. The Highlanders went left. From a scrum, the ball went from Nasi Manu to Aaron Smith who grubbered into in-goal where the ball bounced high and Shaun Treeby beat Mathewson to score. The Highlanders were back in the lead, 16-15 after 32 minutes.

Now it was the Force's turn to attack They did the phase thing and then from a scrum Luke Morahan ran well and McCalman burst through Coltman to score under the posts. 21-16 after 39 minutes, which was the half-time score.

It was not a night to remember for bearded Coltman who threw in skew to successive line-outs.

The Force started the second half on attack. Mathewson darted ahead and McCalman carried it on strongly. They went left where Nick Cummins fell into touch. They stayed on the attack and McCalman was over but held up and back they went for a penalty which Ebersohn goaled. 24-16 after 44 minutes.

McCalman won a turnover and Mathewson went on a long run on the right.

Then, not for the only time in the match the Highlanders' handling let them down. Cummins footed ahead and Sopoaga kicked to clear as Cummins and Rasolea born down on him. Somehow the ball ended up in Rasolea's hands and he scored right in the left corner. Leftfooted Ebersohn goaled and the Force lead 31-16 after 55 minutes.

The conversion was significant as at the death rightfooted Parker missed an easier conversion and deprived his side of a draw.

From the kick-off the Highlanders attacked and Hames was  close and Sopoaga closer, till Fekitoa picked up and forced his way over as Cummins failed to stop him. 31-21 after 60 minutes.

That became 31-24 when Sopoaga goaled a penalty and that set up those enthralling last minutes which ended when Parker's conversion failed.

Man of the Match: Sias Ebersohn and Alby Mathewson both were alive and effective and Ben McCalman had a giant of a game till he erred grievously. But our man of the match is lively, alert Aaron Smith for a golden moment of sportsmanship.

The scorers:

For the Highlanders:
Try:
Treeby, Fekitoa, Parker
Con: Sopoaga
Pens: Sopoaga 4

For the Western Force:
Tries:
Charles, Ebersohn, McCalman, Rasolea
Cons: Ebersohn 4
Pen: Ebersohn

Yellow cards: Aam Coleman (Force, 73 mins - professional foul) Ben McCalman (Force, 73 mins - dangerous tackle)
 
Referee: Glen Jackson (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Garratt Williamson (New Zealand), Ben O'Keefe (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)

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