Force bag bonus-point win over Highlanders
March 15, 2014
Nathan Charles scored early to give the Force a perfect start
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Playing the final eight minutes with just 13 men, the Western Force hung on for a gutsy 31-29 Super Rugby win over the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Saturday. It was their second bonus-point win in two weeks, and the first time they've constructed back-to-back wins since April 2011.
Captain Matt Hodgson was pleased with the way his team dug deep after losing Adam Coleman for a professional foul and Ben McCalman for a spear tackle inside the final 10 minutes.
"We're playing some good football now - our starting game's strong, and we finished off well with 13 men," he said. "I couldn't be prouder of my boys for their defensive effort in the last eight minutes."
Highlanders captain Ben Smith said his team paid the price for a sub-par first half. "We probably didn't play quite the right footy, and let in a few soft tries and it came back to bite us a bit," he said.
The Force began with real intensity, and were rewarded within two minutes with a try to hooker Nathan Charles.
The Australians continue to play with patience, building phases well and putting the Highlanders under pressure at the breakdown, although the home team eased ahead after 18 minutes through three sweetly struck Lima Sopoaga penalties.
Fly-half Sias Ebersohn reclaimed the lead for the Force as 25 minutes ticked over, pouncing on a loose pass as the Highlanders looked to shift the ball wide and racing away for the intercept try and a 14-9 lead.
The Western Force secured a gutsy bonus-point victory in Dunedin
The Highlanders took only five minutes to get back in front, scrum-half Aaron Smith's through kick snaffled at pace by Shaun Treeby for the try and a 16-14 lead. It was short-lived, McCalman catching the defence flat-footed and powering over right on the half-time whistle for Force to claim a 21-16 lead at the break.
The Force continued to defend well, and it was from a turnover that they picked up their bonus-point try at 55 minutes. Winger Nick Cummins sparked the try with a thumping tackle on Highlanders centre Malakai Fekitoa, Junior Rasolea's pace finishing off as the Force eased away to a 31-16 lead.
Fekitoa narrowed the margin five minutes later with the Highlanders' second try, then a Sopoaga penalty cut back the Force's lead to 31-24 with 12 minutes remaining. Playing 13 men, the Highlanders finally managed a try out wide to Hayden Parker with two minutes remaining, but his conversion attempt bounced off the upright just seconds ahead of the final whistle.