The Western Force hung on to claim a 19-18 victory over the stumbling Highlanders in Perth on Saturday.
It's clear to see why the Highlanders find themselves at the bottom of the Super Rugby table, even against fellow strugglers the Force they were rather woeful - aside from a late thrust that must have left their supporters wondering where that effort had been for the preceding 60 minutes.
Indeed, it was only full-back Ben Smith who showed any real spark and consistency. That Smith is being spoken of as a potential starter for the All Blacks is a tremendous credit to the 26-year-old and he was a real threat from the back, running with great pace and vision and creating a number of opportunities which unfortunately were butchered by various team-mates.
The Force were far from a polished outfit, but with their loose forwards - Chris Alcock in particular - providing a solid platform for the likes of Kyle Godwin, Pat Dellit and Jayden Hayward to run off, they were dominant for the most part.
The hosts were rewarded for some early pressure in the 16th minute when Sias Ebersohn crossed over for what would be the only try of the match. The build-up to the score had begun in the Force half, with some silky interplay seeing the men in blue make swift progress as the ball moved from one side to the other. Hayward broke into the 22 only to be brought down a few metres from the line but the ball was spread wide to Ebersohn who dived over in the corner.
What proceeded was a frustrating period in which both teams were unable to really make the most of the possession and attacking opportunities that they created. The Highlanders in particular were their own worst enemies as time after time they made errors at key moments, as they have done all season.
Hayward and first Hayden Parker, and then Colin Slade, exchanged penalties as the Highlanders remained in the contest despite not having the same front foot ball enjoyed by their opponents.
At 16-12 down and with 20 minutes left, the Highlanders finally came to life with first Mose Tuiali'I and then Ma'a Nonu coming close to picking up a try for the visitors. With Alby Mathewson in the bin for a professional foul, this dominance continued as the final 10 minutes approached.
Nonu had a superb chance to rack up that much-needed try, but the experienced centre went on his own when five out from the line instead of spreading it to Ben Smith who would surely have gone over in the corner.
The Highlanders picked up a penalty for their endeavours and were just a point off with 70 minutes on the clock. Luck has not been on their side this season and this was once again on show when they were criminally denied an attacking line-out just outside the Force 22 after Dellit fumbled an attempt to gather a Slade kick, with the assistant handing the throw to hosts.
Jamie Joseph's men would have another chance though, but Slade massacred a penalty attempt from 10 out from the near touchline. The fly-half would redeem himself as he put the Highlanders ahead with a 51 metre goal minutes later, but the self-destruct button was then pushed once more.
Maritino Nemani was the man at fault on this occasion as he took Hayward out in the air after a high kick, handing the Force a penalty attempt inside the Highlanders 22 with less than two minutes to go. The full-back made no mistake with the kick to put his side ahead and while the Highlanders had one last hurrah, a handling error bought matters to an end, condemning the Highlanders to another defeat and handing the Force their third victory of the campaign.
For the Western Force:
Pen: Hayward 4
For the Highlanders:
Pen:Parker 2, Slade 4
Western Force: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Patrick Dellit, 13 Ben Jacobs, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Junior Rasolea, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Chris Alcock, 6 Matt Hodgson (c), 5 Sam Wykes, 4 Toby Lynn, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Heath Tessmann, 1 Pek Cowan.
Replacements: 16 James Hilterbrand, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Rory Walton, 19 Angus Cottrell , 20 Richard Brown, 21 Brett Sheehan, 22 Sam Norton-Knight.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Jason Emery, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Ma'a Nonu, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Hayden Parker, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Mose Tuiali'i, 7 John Hardie, 6 TJ Ioane, 5 Josh Bekhuis, 4 Brad Thorn (c), 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Tony Woodcock.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Joe Wheeler, 19 Elliot Dixon, 20 Fumiaki Tanaka, 21 Colin Slade, 22 Tino Nemani/Trent Renata.
Venue: nib Stadium, Perth
Referee: Andrew Lees