Super Rugby champions the Highlanders had to come from being 0-14 down after 11 minutes to beat the Force 32-20 at the Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.
The Highlanders victory over the Force extends their unbeaten run at home to eight matches in Dunedin.
The Force enjoyed a near perfect start to the match as they scored two converted tries in the opening 11 minutes.
The Force’s early lead shocked the Highlanders into action and by the half and hour mark the home side had levelled the scores at 14 all which is how it stayed until half time.
The Highlanders struggled to pull away from the Force and it took them until the 52nd minute to take the lead for the first time. Jason Emery’s try three minutes from full time was the first time that the Super Rugby champions were more than six points ahead of the Force.
By the end of the match the Highlanders had outscored the Force by four tries to two in in a bruising encounter.
The result snapped a decade-long winning streak for the Force in Dunedin, where the Australians have been an unlikely bogey team for the Highlanders.
“They put some pressure on us in the first 30 (minutes) and we just managed to get some momentum in the second half. I was stoked with the way we finished,” Highlanders co-captain Shane Christie said.
Going into the match, the Highlanders had only won three of nine previous meetings with the Force, with their last win in Dunedin way back in February 2006.
But they have maintained last year’s sparkling form in 2016 and now have five wins on the trot.
In contrast, the Force have managed only one win from six and were thumped 53-10 by the Chiefs last week.
Coach Michael Foley said before kick-off that the Australians were hurting and determined to salvage some pride in the last match of their New Zealand road trip.
They backed his tough talk on the field, racing to a 14-0 lead with two tries in the first eight minutes.
The first came when fullback Ben Smith coughed up the ball after Patrick Osborne threw him a hospital pass on the line, allowing Dane Haylett-Petty to swoop in.
Then Ben McCalman’s run split the Highlanders’ much-vaunted defence after centre Ben Tapuai held off two tacklers to set him up with a one-handed offload.
Osborne made up for his earlier blunder to put the Highlanders on the board in the 16th minute, crossing from out wide after a sweeping backline move.
They levelled at 14-all against the run of play when flanker Dan Pryor found himself in the right place after Osborne launched a run from deep within his own half.
The New Zealanders used their counter-attacking skills again to take the lead when Matt Faddes chased down a chip kick for the Highlanders’ third try.
Osborne had another try disallowed but helped seal the game four minutes from time when he made yet another break to set up Jason Emery for a five-pointer.
Next week in Round 7 the Highlanders travel to Brisbane to play the Reds at Suncorp Stadium while the Force host the Crusaders in Perth.
The Highlanders try scorer Dan Pryor was named man of the match.
Final Score Highlanders 32 (14) Western Force 20 (14)
Tries – P.Osborne, D.Pryor, M.Faddes, J.Emery
Pen – H.Parker 2
Con – H.Parker 3
Tries – D.Haylett-Petty, B.McCalman
Pen – P.Grant 2
Con – P.Grant 2
Referee: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant Ref 1:Nick Briant
Assistant Ref 2:Paul Williams
TMO : Chris Wratt
1. Brendon Edmonds , 2. Liam Coltman , 3. Siosiua Halanukonuka , 4. Alex Ainley , 5. Tom Franklin , 6. Elliot Dixon , 7. Dan Pryor , 8. Liam Squire , 9. Aaron Smith , 10. Hayden Parker , 11. Pat Osborne , 12. Rob Thompson , 13. Malakai Fekitoa , 14. Matt Faddes , 15. Ben Smith (cc)
Replacements : 16. Ash Dixon , 17. Daniel Lienert-Brown , 18. Josh Hohneck , 19. Joe Wheeler , 20. Shane Christie (cc) , 21. Fumiaki Tanaka , 22. Marty Banks , 23. Jason Emery
1. Pekahou Cowan , 2. Heath Tessmann , 3. Tetera Faulkner , 4. Ross Haylett-Petty , 5. Adam Coleman , 6. Angus Cottrell , 7. Matt Hodgson (C) , 8. Ben McCalman , 9. Alby Mathewson , 10. Peter Grant , 11. Semisi Masirewa , 12. Solomoni (Junior) Rasolea , 13. Ben Tapuai , 14. Luke Morahan , 15. Dane Haylett-Petty
Replacements : 16. Nathan Charles , 17. Chris Heiberg , 18. Jermaine Ainsley , 19. Sitiveni (Steve) Mafi , 20. Richard Hardwick , 21. Ryan Louwrens , 22. Ian Prior , 23. Albert Nikoro