The Western Force signed off their 2009 Super14 campaign with a bonus point 33-28 victory over the Highlanders in Perth with outgoing Scott Staniforth scoring a brace of tries.
The Force were no longer in contention for a play in the play offs after losing to the Stormers in Cape Town last week. The match was historic as it was Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Josh Valentine and Scott Staniforth's last match for the Force as they will all be moving on next season.
The match was also the last time that the Force played a match at the Subiaco Oval as they move to the 18 000 seater Members Equity stadium next season.
The match was also the first of two matches in the final round of the Super 14 which could not have an effect on the top four standings.
Staniforth, who has 12 test caps for Australia, played his 100th Super Rugby
match. He will move to Yokogawa in Japan next season.
"It's the end of my Super 14 career, so there is a bit of sadness but there's an exciting challenge ahead," the 31-year-old Staniforth said.
"To finish on 100 is quite special.
"Whenever you get a big group of players like this leaving it is a bit emotional because it's the last chance to play together."
Subiaco Oval hasn't always been happy hunting ground for the Force, but they hit the ground running Saturday to score their first try in just 44 seconds through former rugby league player Ryan Cross on their way to a commanding and ultimately match-winning 23-0 lead at the break.
It must have been bittersweet for Force fans as both Giteau and Mitchell, who are headed for the Brumbies next season, inflicted damage early and got the home side rolling.
Giteau's sublime performance underlined a superb Super 14 season personally and his left boot was at its precise best in the first half, his dribble kick perfectly weighted to allow Cross to gather and easily open the scoring in the first minute.
He and Mitchell combined brilliantly in the dying seconds of the half, with Giteau catching the Highlanders off guard by screwing the ball across his body to the far side of the field, where Mitchell ran onto it and dished off to Scott Staniforth, another player in his last game for the Force, for his second try.
Staniforth had earlier crossed for the Force's second try in the seventh minute, in a move also started by Giteau.
Giteau also slotted two penalties in the first half, in doing so setting a new record for points in a season by a Force player.
The Highlanders briefly rallied when the speedy Ben Smith ran in their first try just after half-time, but Mitchell then imposed himself again to set up a try for Haig Sare as the Force opened up a 33-7 lead in the 52nd minute.
The result seemed sealed, but Smith added his second try when he collected a Giteau chip and strolled through the Force defence in the 63rd minute and less than 60 seconds later Smith put Tom Donnelly over as the margin suddenly narrowed to 33-21.
Fetu'u Vainikolo also crossed in the 70th minute, but it didn't count as the final pass from Adam Thomson was forward, before Jimmy Cowan dived over after the final siren.
The Force finished with six wins for the season and captain Nathan Sharpe said inconsistent play had plagued their season, as was the case against the Highlanders.
"Our defence in the first half was tremendous," he said.
"In the second half the Highlanders threw the ball around a lot and that makes it hard to defend."
Sharpe said it was great to send off the departing players with a win.
Highlanders skipper Cowan said his young side would continue to improve and he was pleased with the way they fought the game out against the Force.
"We showed a bit of backbone," he said.
"It was pleasing to get four tries and a bonus point."
Final Score Force 33 Highlanders 28
Tries - Cross, Staniforth 2, Sare
Pen - Matt Giteau 2
Con - Matt Giteau
Tries - Smith 2, Donnelly, Cowan
Con - Bowden 4
Head-to-Head: Played 3, Highlanders 2, Force 1
In Perth: Played 1, Highlanders 1, Force 0
Last season: Round 6, March 22 2008: Force 36-28 Highlanders at Queenstown Events Centre
Last three results
2008 Force won 36-28 in Queenstown
2007 Highlanders won 7-8 in Perth
2006 Highlanders won 22-25 in Dunedin
Referee: Nathan Pearce (Australia)
Touch judges: Matt Goddard (Australia), Stephen Hill (Australia)
Television match official: Julian Pritchard (Australia)
Assessor: Wayne Erickson (Australia)
Force: 1. Pek Cowan,2. Tai McIsaac,3. AJ Whalley,4. Sam Wykes,5. Nathan Sharpe (c),6. Matt Hodgson,7. David Pocock,8. Tamaiti Horua,9. Josh Valentine,10. Matt Giteau ,11. Nick Cummins,12. Josh Tatupu,13. Ryan Cross,14. Scott Staniforth,15. Drew Mitchell
Reserves:16. Ben Whittaker,17. Troy Takiari,18. Tom Hockings,19. Richard Stanford,20. Chris O’Young,21. Junior Pelesasa,22. Haig Sare
Highlanders :1 Jamie Mackintosh , 2 David Hall , 3 Clint Newland , 4 Hayden Triggs , 5 Tom Donnelly , 6 Adam Thomson , 7 Alando Soakai , 8 George Naoupu, 9 Jimmy Cowan (C) , 10 Daniel Bowden , 11 Fetu’u Vainikolo , 12 Johnny Leota , 13 Jason Shoemark , 14 Ben Smith , 15 Israel Dagg
Reserves: 16. Jason Rutledge , 17. Chris King, 18. Josh Bekhuis , 19. Steven Setephano, 20. Sean Romans, 21. Jayden Hayward/ Matthew Berquist, 22. Kendrick Lynn