A 79th-minute penalty goal to Jayden Hayward has kicked the Emirates Western Force to a 19-18 win over the Highlanders at nib Stadium tonight.
The Force fullback was awarded the penalty when he was taken out after kicking by Highlanders No.8 Mose Tuiali’i, before the fledgling goal kicker coolly slotted the angled attempt to claim the victory.
The win was reward for another determined team defensive effort, holding the Highlanders try-less, despite being a man down when Alby Mathewson received a yellow card after 61 minutes.
The one-point triumph was a fitting result to mark Ben McCalman’s 50th match for the club, with the rampaging back-rower figuring heavily in the performance to claim man-of-the-match honours.
Emirates Western Force Head Coach Michael Foley said the win was testament to the side’s ongoing work ethic.
“I’m very pleased for the players,” he said. “They’ve displayed character in every game we’ve played this year.
“Obviously we’ve had a lot of close losses, but to get a close win and be in that situation when we’re playing with 14 men in our own 22 against a side that had a lot of attacking threats, I thought was a fantastic reward for all the work that’s gone in from the boys.”
The Emirates Western Force’s intent was clear from the outset when the side’s first attacking raid spanned 23 phases deep inside the Highlanders’ 22m line.
The created pressure reaped dividends at the 17-minute mark when Hayward broke through from a second-man play only to be hauled in a metre short from the line. However, from the ensuing phase, Mathewson found Sias Ebersohn, who dived over in the corner for his maiden try for the Force.
Hayward’s touch line conversion launched a goal-kicking shootout with Highlanders flyhalf Hayden Parker, with the Otago pivot landing two first half penalty goals to Hayward’s one, with the Force up 10-6 at the break.
When the second half resumed, it was replacement playmaker Colin Slade who traded penalties with Hayward to have the Force leading 16-12 after 59 minutes.
When referee Andrew Lees marched Mathewson at the hour mark, the Force first denied a rampaging Ma’a Nonu a try before repelling seven minutes of intense pressure, conceding just a penalty goal.
The Highlanders claimed their first taste of the lead with four minutes remaining when Slade landed a 50-metre penalty to hold an 18-16 margin, however, Hayward’s final vital three-points provided the Force with the win and extended their unbeaten run over the Highlanders to five matches.
Emirates Western Force 19 (Sias Ebersohn try; Jayden Hayward conversion, 4 penalties) defeated Highlanders 18 (Colin Slade 4 penalties, Hayden Parker 2 penalties)