The Western Force has recorded the club’s first back-to-back bonus point victories following a remarkable 31-29 win over the Highlanders at Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium today.
Leading 31-24, the Force was forced to defend their own line with 13 men for the final seven minutes of the match after Adam Coleman (professional foul) and Ben McCalman (dangerous tackle) received yellow cards from referee Glen Jackson in the same passage of play. While replacement flyhalf Hayden Parker crossed in the final minute of play, he was unable to convert with the Force claiming a gutsy two-point victory.
The result also returned the club’s first back-to-back wins since defeating the Brumbies (27-19) and Bulls (26-21) in Rounds Nine and 10 of the 2011 Super Rugby competition.
McCalman was again outstanding at the back of the Western Australian scrum, leading his side’s run and tackle count, as well as charging over for Force’s third try on half-time.
The Force halves pairing of Alby Mathewson, who backed up from last weekend’s Haigh & Hastings Man of the Match performance against the Melbourne Rebels, and Sias Ebersohn were also highly involved throughout the match. Ebersohn, who finished the match with a 100 percent goal-kicking rate, hit the attack line, defensive reads and Western Force captain Matt Hodgson, who was again amongst his side’s best, said he was pleased to hold out the late Highlanders charge.
“It’s going well; we feel like we’re playing good footy, starting matches strong and, like you saw there, finishing the game well with only 13 men,” he said.
“While we have a good record against the Highlanders, every game seems to go down to the wire like that one, but I’m extremely proud of our boys with that defensive effort for the last eight minutes with 13 men.
“We’ll now take our time to look at that game, head back to Perth and look at the Chiefs on Monday.”
After crossing in the third minute in the side’s 32-7 win over the Melbourne Rebels last weekend, the Force was over in the fourth against the Highlanders when Ebersohn delivered a perfect two-man cut-out pass to send hooker Nathan Charles over for his first try of the season.
After holding the bulk of possession throughout the first half, the Highlanders held a two-point lead by the 18-minute mark on the back of three Lima Sopoaga penalty goals, with the Force repelling several Highlander attempts to cross their try line.
Despite playing with limited ball, the Force was next onto the scoreboard then Ebersohn intercepted a Liam Coltman pass to race 45 metres and score under the posts.
The Highlanders returned fire when a well-waited Aaron Smith grubber inside their attacking quarter sat up perfectly for Shaun Treeby to score adjacent to the posts.
With half-time nearing, the Force crossed for the final try of the term when Ben McCalman steamrolled over two Highlander defenders to slam the ball down under the posts, with Ebersohn’s conversion giving the Force a 21-16 lead at the break.
Ebersohn extended the lead by three with a penalty five minutes into the new half, before Solomoni Rasolea sealed the four-try bonus point in the 56th-minute when he charged down a Sopoaga clearing kick and regathered to cross in the corner.
A Malakai Fekitoa try and Sopoaga penalty goal drew the home side to within 31-24 with 10 minutes remaining, before Coleman and McCalman were forced to exit the match setting up a tense final seven minutes.
Playing two men down, the Force continued to work tirelessly in defence, with Hodgson holding up opposite number Shane Christie with three minutes remaining.
While Parker found space out wide to cross just on full time, his conversion fell under the crossbar with the Force claiming the two-point win.
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