Force hold off Highlanders
Nathan Charles (Getty Images)
Dunedin - Dogged defence by the Western Force, reduced to 13 men over the closing stages, saw them hang on for a desperate 31-29 bonus-point win over the Highlanders in their Super 15 clash in Dunedin Saturday.
Ben McCalman and Adam Coleman both copped yellow cards as the Force confronted a late rally from the Highlanders who trailed 31-16 with 20 minutes remaining.
With the Highlanders dominating possession and territory they steadily reduced the gap forcing the Force into desperate defensive measures, including a spear tackle which forced referee Glen Jackson to produce the yellow cards.
But even with a two-man advantage the Highlanders were unable to bridge the gap.
After eight minutes of unsuccessfully battering away at the line, they were rewarded on full-time when replacement fly-half Hayden Parker scored out wide.
But his conversion attempt which would have seen the match end in a draw, fell short.
Although the Force were on the losing end of the second half, they built enough of a buffer in the first 40 minutes, when they led 21-16 to secure their second win as they backed up from beating the Rebels 32-7 a week ago.
"We're playing some good football now, starting the game strong and finishing it off well with 13 men," a relieved Force captain Matt Hodgson said.
The Force, looking to emulate last week's effort when they raced to a 32-0 lead by halftime against the Rebels, had their first points on the board within three minutes.
Hooker Nathan Charles, loitering on the left wing, scored in the corner with Sias Ebersohn adding the conversion.
But they were made to pay for repeated infringements with Highlanders' flyhalf Lima Sopoaga landing three penalties in quick succession including a 50-metre (yard) effort to give the Highlanders a 9-7 lead inside 20 minutes.
However, the lead was to change twice more before half-time with Ebersohn putting the Force back in front from a 40-metre intercept try which he also converted.
The Highlanders, who had one win from two outings going into the match, responded with a try to Shaun Treeby who snapped up an Aaron Smith chip kick from a scrum close to the line.
Sopoaga's conversion had the Highlanders in front 16-14 before McCalman crashed over for a try, converted by Ebersohn, for the Force to lead at half-time.
A penalty early in the second half to Ebersohn, who also converted the bonus-point try by Junior Rasolea pushed the Force out to a 31-16 lead.
Malakai Fekitoa and Parker scored two late tries for the Highlanders with Sopoaga adding a fourth penalty.
The Force return to Perth to play the defending champion Chiefs next week while the Highlanders remain at home to face the Hurricanes.
Highlanders: 29 - Tries: Shaun Treeby, Malakai Fekitoa, Hayden Parker; Conversion: Lima Sopoaga; Penalties: Sopoaga (4)
Force: 31 - Tries: Nathan Charles, Sias Ebersohn, Ben McCalman, Junior Rasolea; Conversions: Ebersohn (4); Penalty: Ebersohn
Referee: Glen Jackson (NZL)
15. Ben Smith (captain), 14. Richard Buckman, 13. Malakai Fekitoa, 12. Shaun Treeby, 11. Kurt Baker, 10. Lima Sopoaga, 9. Aaron Smith, 8. Nasi Manu, 7. Shane Christie, 6. John Hardie, 5. Joe Wheeler, 4. Jarrad Hoeata, 3. Chris King, 2. Liam Coltman, 1. Kane Hames
Substitutes: 16. Ged Robinson, 17. Matias Diaz, 18. Craig Millar, 19. Josh Bekhuis, 20. Elliot Dixon, 21. Fumiaki Tanaka, 22. Hayden Parker, 23. Phil Burleigh
15. Jayden Hayward, 14. Luke Morahan, 13. Junior Rasolea, 12. Kyle Godwin, 11. Nick Cummins, 10. Sias Ebersohn, 9. Alby Mathewson, 8. Ben McCalman, 7. Matthew Hodgson (captain), 6. Angus Cottrell, 5. Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4. Sam Wykes, 3. Kieran Longbottom, 2. Nathan Charles, 1. Pekahou Cowan
Substitutes: 16. Heath Tessmann, 17. Tetera Faulkner, 18. Oli Hoskins, 19. Adam Coleman, 20. Brynard Stander, 21. Ian Prior, 22. Zack Holmes, 23. Marcel Brache