Vital win for Highlanders

Date published: May 23 2015

The Highlanders picked up a vital 23-3 win over the Western Force in Perth on Saturday to strengthen their footing in the play-off positions.

Victory leaves the men from Dunedin in fifth position, crucially nine points ahead of the seventh-placed Stormers, who play later on Saturday.

The Force meanwhile remain rock bottom in the standings, two points behind fellow Australian outfit the Reds in a disappointing campaign.

It was a low-scoring first-half that the Highlanders edged 6-3 thanks to two Lima Sopoaga penalties to the one from Force pivot Sias Ebersohn.

While the Force enjoyed the majority of possession and territory in that opening stanza, there was always the feeling the New Zealanders could strike from anywhere on the field. Centurion Ben Smith and the free-scoring Waisake Naholo were two players who offered plenty in attack.

However, the biggest chance of the half went the way of the Force and it came in the seventh minute as centre Marcel Brache looked set to dive over after chasing a kick ahead. He did not count on the aforementioned Smith putting in a hand and dislodging the ball in an outstanding try-saver.

Sopoaga then opened the scoring in the sixteenth minute with a sweet strike after Force number eight Ben McCalman was pinged for holding on at a ruck.

The Western Force would hit back seven minutes later though to level as this time it was John Hardie penalised at a ruck by referee Andrew Lees.

The Highlanders weren't done in the half though and when Force lock Adam Coleman came offside, Sopoaga slotted a simple three points for 6-3.

Hardie would put his side in a promising position five minutes into the second-half when he was on the back of a driving maul and crashed over to make it 13-3 with Sopoaga's conversion. The fly-half had earlier been off-target with a long-range penalty attempt but he was managing the team nicely.

It wasn't just the Highlanders strike runners offering a threat in Perth as so often has been the case in recent years. Their pack almost put another try on the board but replacement Elliot Dixon was denied by the officials, who deemed him to have been held up over the try-line from a close range hit and spin.

Fortunately for the visitors another replacement, Richard Buckman, would set up Aaron Smith for their second try in the left corner, which had followed an intelligent decision from Sopoaga to send over a drop-goal moments earlier.

At this point the Highlanders were sitting pretty at 23-3 which was how it stayed until full-time as Jamie Joseph's men claimed their ninth win of the season.

The scorers:

For Force:
Pen: Ebersohn

For Highlanders:
Tries: Hardie, A Smith
Con: Sopoaga, Banks
Pen: Sopoaga 2
Drop: Sopoaga

Western Force: 15 Dane Haylett-Petty, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Marcel Brache, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Ryan Louwrens, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Steve Mafi, 3 Tetera Faulkner, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pekahou Cowan.
Replacements: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Chris Heiberg, 18 Guy Millar, 19 Sam Wykes, 20 Kane Koteka, 21 Alby Mathewson, 22 Luke Burton, 23 Brad Lacey.

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Dan Pryor, 7 John Hardie, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Mark Reddish, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Brendon Edmonds.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Tom Franklin, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Richard Buckman, 23 Marty Banks.

Referee: Andrew Lees
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann; Graham Cooper
TMO: Ian Smith