The Highlanders overcame a strong start from the Western Force in a brutal match to win 32-20 in Dunedin last night.
The Highlanders now move to the top of the competition after their fifth consecutive victory. The Western Force, who have now lost four in a row – the last three in New Zealand – looked surprisingly impressive against the defending champions.
The bruising encounter included a number of sickening head clashes. Force flanker Angus Cottrell was stretchered off the field and Highlanders fullback Ben Smith, who was led off early in the second half for a concussion test, did not return. Force locks Ross Haylett-Petty and Adam Coleman were both taken off after they collided when trying to tackle centre Malakai Fekitoa.
Poor handling led to errors from the Highlanders that allowed the Force to dominate early. Fullback Dane Haylett-Petty opened the scoring after a wayward pass from Highlanders winger Patrick Osborne. Ben McCalman scored soon after to give the Force an early 14-point lead. A dominant scrum and some open attacking play allowed the Highlanders back into the match. The scores were level by the break courtesy of tries to winger Patrick Osborne and flanker Tom Franklin.
Both sides scored penalty goals to take the score to 17-17 then a strong run from in-form Highlander halfback Aaron Smith set up a try for winger Matt Faddes, giving the home team the lead at 22-17. After two more penalty goals took the score to 25-20, Osborne broke the line passing to Jason Emery to seal the victory for the Highlanders. In the end, the Highlanders superior scrum, and their ability to keep the ball in hand to score long range tries proved too much for the Force.
The Force now return from their three-week stint in New Zealand to play the Crusaders at home. The Highlanders will head to Queensland to play the winless Reds. – Andrew Cullen
Highlanders 32 (Tries to Osborne, Pryor, Faddes, Emery; Conversions by Parker 2, Banks; Penalty goals – Parker 2) defeated the Force 20 (Tries to D Haylett-Petty, McCalman; Conversions – Grant 2; Penalties – Grant 2)
Lions 37 – 43 Crusaders