The Force produced a superb second-half fightback to crash the Carisbrook leaving party, beating the Highlanders 21-14 on Friday.
Western Force produced a superb second-half fightback to crash the leaving party at Carisbrook, beating the Highlanders 21-14 on Friday.
Powerful wing David Smith was the hero for the Australian franchise, scoring a brace of tries in a second period that was completely one-sided.
The result means that the Highlanders are highly-unlikely to make the play-offs following recent defeats to the Lions and now the Force.
It was a special fixture at Carisbrook being that this would be the Highlanders' final game at the House of Pain before moving to the new Forsyth Barr Stadium. To celebrate that fact, the home team donned a new green jersey which had caused many an Otago stalwart feeling upset during the week. The jerseys are not the best…
The hosts did start well but it was all a bit sloppy when it came to the crunch as fumbles saw them come away with nothing until the fifteenth minute. Young pivot Lima Sopoaga's kick from under the posts came after the opening points of the game, three minutes earlier, from James Stannard, who was continuing in the number ten shirt due to the absence of Willie Ripia and James O'Connor. The Force also lost Cameron Shepherd to a hamstring injury just before kick-off.
Jamie Joseph's side meanwhile were boosted by the return of Adam Thomson and were predicted to bounce back from last weekend's defeat to the Hurricanes. That looked even more likely when Sopoago, who will soon join up with the New Zealand team at the Junior World Cup in Italy, sent over a superb long-range penalty kick.
The Highlanders were motoring and – due to the Force's lack of ideas – built on their early momentum and managed to cross the whitewash with 23 minutes gone. Fitting it was that their first try in such a special fixture went to arguably their star man of the season thus far, Ben Smith. It came following a superb touch-finder from scrum-half Jimmy Cowan, which led to a wayward line-out throw from hooker Nathan Charles. The Highlanders pounced.
Sopoaga missed the resulting extras from wide out but did add another three to the tally before the half-hour that took the scores to 14-3 at the interval. In truth, Dunedin probably needed the ten-minute break to refresh themselves as it was not the usual party feeling.
That atmosphere would not improve in the second half too.
Western Force had the ascendancy and like the old cliche goes, it became a game of two halves. Stannard grew more and more into the contest, cutting lines to allow his backline front-foot ball. And it was from that that David Pocock continued the charge from close range before Smith did the rest, going around flank Thomson for a deserved touchdown.
Stannard's conversion brought the score to 10-14 in favour of the Highlanders, but it was Nathan Sharpe's side who were well-and-truly on top. Stannard cut the lead to one point with eight minutes remaining before the mesmeric Smith enjoyed his moment of magic.
His long-range unconverted try took the Force four points clear and when Stannard added another three with 90 seconds remaining, the hosts, as now their season, was done.
Man-of-the-match: James Stannard was superb. The stand-in fly-half cut the line on a plethora of occasions, always keeping the Highlanders guessing. His sin-binning was the only blot on an otherwise well-kept copybook.
Try: B Smith
Pen: Sopoaga 3
For Western Force:
Tries: D Smith 2
Pen: Stannard 2
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Kade Poki, 13 Kendrick Lynn, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Siale Piutau, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 John Hardie, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Mo Schwwalger, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (capt).
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Tom Donnelly, 19 Nick Crosswell, 20 Aaron Smith, 21 Robbie Robinson, 22 Alando Soakai.
Western Force: 15 Pat Dellit, 14 Alfie Mafi, 13 Mitch Inman, 12 Rory Sidey, 11 David Smith, 10 James Stannard, 9 Mark Swanepoel, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 David Pocock, 6 Matt Hodgson, 5 Nathan Sharpe (capt), 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Tim Fairbrother, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Kieran Longbottom.
Replacements: 16 Ben Whittaker, 17 Matt Dunning, 18 Tom Hockings, 19 Richard Brown, 20 Chris Cottee, 21 Cameron Shepherd, 22 Nick Cummins.
Referee: Jonathon White
Assistant referees: Vinny Munro, Kane McBride
Television match official: Mike Fraser