Highlanders thrash woeful Western Force 61-10 in a Trans-Tasman Super Rugby Pacific mismatch at Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin.
The Highlanders continue their good run against the Western Force with a fifth Super Rugby win in a row versus the lacklustre Western Australians.
Tony Brown’s charges claimed the bonus-point win early in the second half as they ran away with the game in this one-sided romp.
The Landers managed to keep the Force scoreless after the interval to cap another good performance on both sides of the ball.
The Otago men also notched their highest Super Rugby winning margin (51), eclipsing the 42-point margin of victory against the Stormers five years ago.
Another heavy defeat for Tim Sampson’s side all but ends the Perth team’s chances of making the playoffs.
The Highlanders cement 8th place on the Super Rugby Pacific standings, seven ahead of the Melbourne Rebels, eight in front of 10th-placed Force.
Sampson’s men would have to win all their remaining fixtures with bonus points while hoping the Highlanders lose all theirs.
Brown’s team ran in nine tries, four in first-half and five after the break
Andrew Makalio, Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, and the fantastic Folau Fakatava all bagged braces for the rejuvenated Highlanders as they swept aside the woeful Western Force.
Scott Gregory, Rhys Marshall, and Billy Harmon also crossed for the home team in front of a boisterous crowd under the roof in Dunedin.
Sam Gilbert, playing first five-eighth for the first time since his St Andrew’s College days, knocked over all eight conversions (16 pts).
Gilbert, usually a winger, could not have asked for an easier assignment playing the game’s most important position.
The 23-year-old must think the first receiver slot is a comfortable gig, but in reality, his forwards laid the foundations for this thrashing.
The pack accounted for six of the nine tries in New Zealand’s South Island and was also instrumental in two more.
Led by the marauding Makalio and Mikaele-Tu’u, the forwards also pilfered two scrums and four lineouts.
Fakatava once again came off the bench for Aaron Smith and made a difference.
The 22-year-old halfback scored and set up a score late in last weekend’s 27-19 win over the Queensland Reds in Brisbane.
Fakatava bagged a second-half brace, and the scrumhalf also set up Harmon’s try with another crazy offload.
Marshall added an audacious assist to his 54th-minute score when his cheeky chip-kick found Fakatava before the hour mark.
Jeremy Thrush and Andrew Ready’s tries were all the visitors could muster in this meagre display in the Land of the Long White Cloud.
The Force have now lost their last 24 Super Rugby matches against New Zealand opposition, their longest losing run.
The Western Australian’s last victory against a Kiwi team was in March 2014 versus the Chiefs.
The Highlanders had all but wrapped up the game by halftime, scoring four converted tries to lead 28-10 at the break
The Perth-based franchise has only won two of their last 19 Super Rugby matches outside Australia.
Interestingly enough, the Force’s last win outside Australia was against New Zealand opposition. They managed to beat the Highlanders in 2014, but not tonight.
Sampson’s side was, however, never going to threaten an unlikely upset across the Tasman, especially falling 28-5 down inside 23 minutes.
Makalio, Mikaele-Tu’u (twice), and Gregory crossed for the Landers to the delight of a frenzied ‘Zoo’, while Thrush and Ready dotted down for the visitors.
The Australians did not score after the Ready’s 33rd-minute try, while the Kiwis kicked into gear.
Josh Dickson saw yellow for the third time this season, but his card did not prove too costly as the visitors did not take advantage.
The Force only scored an unconverted try with the extra man.
Makalio, Marshall, and Fakatava crossed in the third quarter to pile on the pain. The tourists went down to 13 men after two players received cards.
Feleti Kaitu’u (yellow) and Richard Kahui (red) were both harshly sent off for “high, dangerous” tackles late in the final quarter.
The Aussies crumbled. They conceded twice to Harmon and Fakatava as the Highlanders recorded their highest ever winning margin.
Daniel Lienert-Brown, playing his 100th Super Rugby match, could not convert Fakatava’s 81st-minute sideline try, the only blemish of the game.
Final Score: Highlanders 61 (28) Western Force 10 (10)
Tries – Makalio (2), Mikaele-Tu’u (2), Gregory, Marshall, Fakatava (2), Harmon
Con – Gilbert (8)
Cards – Dickson (Yellow, 33′)
Tries – Thrush, Ready
Cards – Kaitu’u (Yellow, 68′), Kahui (Red, 74′)
Referee: Ben O’Keeffe
Assistant Ref 1: Brendon Pickerill
Assistant Ref 2: Angus Mabey
TMO: Shane McDermott
Highlanders: 15 Connor Garden-Bachop, 14 Fetuli Paea, 13 Josh Timu, 12 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 11 Scott Gregory, 10 Sam Gilbert, 9 Aaron Smith (co-captain), 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 James Lentjes (co-captain), 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Bryn Evans, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Andrew Makalio, 1 Ethan de Groot.
Replacements: 16 Rhys Marshall, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Saula Mau, 19 Fabian Holland, 20 Hugh Renton, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Mitch Hunt, 23 Liam Coombes-Fabling.
Western Force: 15 Jake Strachan, 14 Byron Ralston, 13 Kyle Godwin (captain), 12 Bayley Kuenzle, 11 Manasa Mataele, 10 Reesjan Pasitoa, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Tim Anstee, 7 Ollie Callan, 6 Fergus Lee-Warner, 5 Izack Rodda, 4 Jeremy Thrush, 3 Santiago Medrano, 2 Andrew Ready, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Feleti Kaitu’u, 17 Bo Abra, 18 Greg Holmes, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Michael McDonald, 22 Richard Kahui 23 Jake McIntyre.