Three tries in the final quarter helped the Force to their second win of the Super 14, a 41-27 home success over the Highlanders.
Three tries in the final quarter helped the Force to their second win of the Super 14, a 41-27 success over the Highlanders in Queenstown.
The Queenstown fans had plenty to see for their annual treat, even if they still have no home win to celebrate after three attempts. Nine tries were scored in all and until the Force racked up three unanswered ones in the final fifteen minutes, the game was wide open with the lead changing hands on a regular basis.
But the Highlanders will take the bye week to enjoy a period of introspection, a time to wonder why they still can't close out the tight games. Coach Glenn Moore is bound to be under further scrutiny as well, as he still fails to find a method and style which makes victories a certainty. He has done well with this squad, but just hasn't quite found the missing piece of the jigsaw that could make this team challenge at the right end of the table.
The Force can justifiably sit back and enjoy the small consolation of knowing that had they not been so very curse with injuries at the start of the season, they might have been at the right end of the table. David Pocock, Richard Brown and Cameron Shepherd all made significant contributions to this victory and there was an added fillip of an excellent cameo performance from young scrum-half Nathan Turner. The future of the Force is bright.
It was a tight and occasionally fierce first half, with Matt Berquist giving the home side the lead with two penalties.
But the Force were putting on most of the pressure and eventually, with Jimmy Cowan off the pitch for a professional foul, Cameron Shepherd took an inside pass off Hill – a tactic that gave the Highlanders problems all day – and scrambled to the posts to score.
James O'Connor embellished the score with the conversion and a penalty, and there were further yellow cards for Clint Newland and Pek Cowan for an ugly altercation that might have the citing officers on duty.
O'Connor added another penalty for a 10-6 half-time lead for the visitors.
The second half opened with a flurry of scoring, which didn't really let up for the rest of the match. Berquist landed a penalty, then opted to go for the corner with another one, from which King eventually crashed over after a driven line-out.
With Berquist missing the extras, the Highlanders were only four ahead and lost the lead shortly after as a result, when Hill's clever chip was seized upon by O'Connor.
Back came the hosts, with Nathan Sharpe spilling the restart, Fetu'u Vainikolo taking the ball at pace and flipping out a miracle pass for Steven Setephano to race on and score.
Neither of those tries was converted either, so the Highlanders led 19-15 going into the final quarter.
Ryan Cross's try, again finding the inside shoulder of Berquist for the gap, gave the Force the lead back, but again it was taken back by the hosts, with Berquist landing his fourth penalty to make it 22-20.
With ten minutes to go, Nathan Turner scored the game-turning try after a super break by Sam Harris through the 10-12 channel. Pocock took the ball on and nearly got to the line himself before selflessly offloading to Turner who scampered under the posts.
At 27-22, the game was still open, but that fourth try seemed to knock the stuffing out of the visitors. Cross switched with Hill and raced through a static defence under the posts, then Shepherd also took an inside pass after Hill had showed and gone through that troublesome inside channel.
A late score for Vainikolo – a magnificent mid-air finish in the corner – was scant consolation for the Highlanders.
Man of the match: It's sometimes a cop-out to make the fly-half man of the match, but the way David Hill orchestrated an examination of the defence before exploiting the weak link was the match-winning factor for the Force.
For the Highlanders:
Tries: King, Setephano, Vainikolo
Pens: Berquist 4
For the Force:
Tries: Shepherd 2, O'Connor, Cross 2, Turner
Cons: O'Connor 4
Highlanders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Kenny Lynn, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Mat Berquist, 9 Jimmy Cowan (c), 8 Steven Setephano, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Hayden Triggs, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Clint Newland, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Chris King.
Replacements: 16 Jason Macdonald, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Joe Tuineau, 19 Tim Boys, 20 Sean Romans, 21 Robbie Robinson, 22 Jayden Hayward.
Western Force: 15 James O'Connor, 14 Cameron Shepherd, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Ryan Cross, 11 Mark Bartholomeusz, 10 David Hill, 9 Chris O'Young, 8 Richard Brown, 7 David Pocock, 6 Matt Hodgson, 5 Nathan Sharpe (c), 4 Tom Hockings, 3 Tim Fairbrother, 2 Ben Whittaker, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Nathan Charles, 17 Matt Dunning, 18 Ben McCalman, 19 Sam Wykes, 20 Justin Turner, 21 Sam Harris, 22 Dane Haylett-Petty.
Referee: Marius Jonker