Highlanders too classy for ill-disciplined Force
SUPER RUGBY TRANS-TASMAN REPORT: The Western Force have been made to pay dearly for their ill-discipline during a 15-25 Super Rugby Trans-Tasman loss to the Highlanders in Perth.
The Force trailed 20-3 after 36 minutes of Friday night’s match before launching a brave comeback that almost saw them reduce the margin to three points.
Down by 10 points early in the second half, the Force came close to scoring on three occasions – only for penalties to bring them undone each time with the line in sight.
A 60th-minute yellow card to reserve prop Greg Holmes – and a Highlanders try a minute later – killed off the Force’s victory hopes in front of 13 587 fans at HBF Park.
The penalty count read 12-6 against the Force late in the match before the Highlanders committed some ill-disciplined acts themselves in the dying minutes for the final count to read 12-9.
The Force suffered a blow before the game when former All Blacks lock Jeremy Thrush became a late withdrawal.
And flyhalf Jake McIntyre lasted just 22 minutes before being knocked unconscious in a sickening clash of heads with Highlanders winger Patelesio Tomkinson.
The Force trailed by 17 points after conceding three tries in the opening 36 minutes.
Winger Jona Nareki scored the opener in the 12th minute when the Highlanders pulled off a smooth line-out move and scrumhalf Aaron Smith broke through Feleti Kaitu’u’s tackle to provide the assist.
The Force were brought undone at the line-out again in the 23rd minute when the Highlanders threw it short and formed a rolling maul for prop Ayden Johnstone to barge over.
Alarm bells were ringing in the 36th minute when a rolling maul congested the Force defence before the ball was offloaded to inside centre Scott Gregory to touch down.
But the home side hit back on the stroke of half-time with their own piece of magic from a successful line-out.
Winger Jordan Olowofela made a sharp 20 metre break before dishing off to centre Henry Taefu.
Taefu’s pass was knocked down by a defender, but scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli swooped on the loose ball and shook off a tackle in a sprint to the line.
Domingo Miotti’s successful conversion made it 20-10 at half-time, and the Force dominated long periods early in the second half, only for untimely penalties to bring them undone on three occasions close to the line.
Holmes’ yellow card for a high tackle that was swiftly followed by a second try to Gregory extended the margin to 15 points, but the Highlanders were denied a bonus point when Force substitute Angus Wagner scored in the 79th minute.
Tries: Cubelli, Wagner
Tries: Gregory 2, Johnstone, Nareki
Western Force: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Richard Kahui, 13 Kyle Godwin (captain), 12 Henry Taefu, 11 Jordan Olowofela, 10 Jake McIntyre, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Tim Anstee, 7 Kane Koteka, 6 Fergus Lee-Warner, 5 Sitaleki Timani, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Feleti Kaitu’u, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Ready, 17 Angus Wagner, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Domingo Miotti, 23 Jake Strachan.
Highlanders: 15 Sam Gilbert, 14 Sio Tomkinson, 13 Michael Collins, 12 Scott Gregory, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith (co-captain), 8 Hugh Renton, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Bryn Evans, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Ethan de Groot, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Kazuki Himeno, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Josh Ioane, 23 Ngantungane Punivai.
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant referees: Amy Perrett, Reuben Keane
TMO: James Leckie