Late Force surge beats the Highlanders



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A withering three-try burst in the closing minutes saw the Western Force come from behind to beat the Highlanders 41-27 in the battle of the Super cellar-dwellers Saturday.

With nothing but pride to play for, the lead changed eight times in the match, and the Force were trailing 20-22 with 10 minutes remaining before their decisive closing.

The bonus-point victory was the Force’s second consecutive win, following their breakthrough defeat of the Western Stormers last week to end a run of six losses.

The helter-skelter nature of the game allowed the Force, who had scored only seven tries in their first seven matches, to score six against the Highlanders.

Cameron Shepherd and Ryan Cross scored two apiece with James O’Connor and Justin Turner also dotting down, while O’Connor added a further 11 points from four conversions and a penalty.

Chris King, Steven Setephano and Fetu’u Vainikolo scored the three tries for the Highlanders and Matt Berquist, deputising for the injured Israel Dagg, was successful with four penalties but missed all his conversion attempts.

Although it was an entertaining spectacle with the constant changing of the lead, misdirected passes, handling errors and three yellow-cards for ill-discipline ensured the standard of play never reached great heights.

Until they produced their rampant finish, the Force never looked in full control of the game despite dominating territory and possession, and the Highlanders were left wondering at the end how they let it slip away.

The home side led early with two Berquist penalties before Shepherd scored the first of his tries and O’Connor provided the conversion and penalty for the Force to lead 10-6 at half time.

A helter-skelter second half then produced 52 of the game’s 68 points, starting at the resumption with another Berquist penalty and a try to Chris King in his 50th Super match that put the Highlanders back in front at 14-10.

O’Connor, Setephano and Cross then exchanged tries followed by another Berquist penalty to have the Highlanders leading 22-20 and with a third win in sight.

But their defence folded in the face of the closing onslaught by the Force as replacement Turner, Cross and Shepherd scored to confirm victory before Highlanders winger Fetu’u Vainikolo ended the game with a try on full time.

The Force next week face the Auckland Blues while the Highlanders have a bye.

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