In a match that was closer than the score suggests, the Western Force has gone down to the Highlanders in an enthralling but error- and injury-riddled affair.
The Force got off to a flying start, after taking advantage of a one man advantage with Highlanders prop Brendon Edmonds down injured. A kick chase put Patrick Osborne under pressure close to his own line, with Dane Haylett-Petty capitalising and diving on the loose ball for the first try of the match. Peter grant converted to make the score 7-0 to the Force with three minutes gone.
At the 8 minute mark a good offload to Ben McCalman led to another try for the Force, after McCalman barged his way through the defence. Again Grant’s conversion was successful making it 14-0 to the Force.
In the 16th minute the Highlanders finally got on the score board after a large overlap on the left wing gave Osborne plenty of room to run in the try. Hayden Parker converted, 14-7 to the Force.
The Force kick chase continued to put the Highlanders under pressure in their half, forcing an uncharacteristic number of errors from the home team; however, the Force was unable to capitalise.
In the 27th minute great linking play on the counter led to a break from Matt Faddes, who was ably supported by Aaron Smith. Pryor got on the scoresheet for his team’s second as Parker slotted the extras – the game now level 14 points all.
It was an impressive display from the Force, with the first penalty against them not coming until the 39th minute. The Highlanders had the lineout after the siren, but a double knock on meant the end of the half.
HALF TIME: 14-14
Just two minutes into the second half the Force took the lead again with a penalty kick to Grant after pressure was again placed on the Highlanders after receiving the kick off. 17-14 to Force
In the 45th minute Ben Smith was replaced by Jason Emery after leaving the field for a concussion check, the result of a clash of heads with a team mate. Smith did not return for the rest of the match.
Three minutes later the Highlanders were awarded a penalty after a high tackle. Parker was successful with the kick, tying the scores at 17-17.
In the 51st minute Aaron Smith broke through the defence and kicked ahead for Thomas Franklin. Franklin toed the ball ahead and Faddes dived on it to score a try, taking the Highlanders into the lead for the first time in the match. Parker missed the conversion, making it 22-17 to the Highlanders.
Three minutes later the Highlanders were on attack again after Liam Squire capitalised on a poor lineout from the Force. Parker put in a cross field kick to Osborne who looked to be in for his second try, only to be denied when replays showed his knee in touch slightly before grounding the ball.
Play was stopped in the 60th minute after Cottrell copped a hard hit. On replay it looked as though Squire’s head connected with Cottrell’s jaw. There was concern shown for Cottrell as he was stretchered from the field. Nathan Charles was bought on as replacement.
The Force were on the board again at 63 minutes with a penalty to Grant after a dangerous tackle from Aaron Smith. 22-20 to the Highlanders.
Two minutes later a dominant scrum by the Highlanders was rewarded with a penalty. Parker scored to take the lead back to five points for the Highlanders, 25-20.
In the 75th minute a poor kick by Ben Tapuai put the visitors under pressure as the Highlanders again went on the attack. Osborne broke through 2 tackles and drew a 3rd defender to put Jason Emery into a gap and over the line. Marty Banks converted, making the score 32-20 Highlanders.
Play went back and forth after the siren, both teams looking for an extra try for a bonus point. The Highlanders eventually went over the line after Thompson kicked a loose ball through, but the try was disallowed after the ref went to TMO to check for a knock on at the break away.
The final score remained at 32-20 with neither team getting a bonus point.
The ability of the Highlanders to keep the momentum and outlast their opponents. The Force put in a much better showing this week, but the Highlanders kept attacking right until the end.
Hard to pick one player, when the all of the Force players stood up and played together as a team. They all put in solid performances against the top team after a gruelling trip in New Zealand.
Dane Haylett-Petty showed that he has the potential to pull on the gold jersey with some good work in both attack and defence, and his in-game kicking really putting the Highlanders under pressure. McCalman had his usual solid performance, some strong runs and tight defence.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Osborne, Pryor, Faddes, Emery
Conversions: Parker 2, Banks
Tries: Dane Haylett-Petty, McCalman
Conversions: Grant 2
Penalties: Grant 2