The Western Force beat the Highlanders 31-29 on Saturday, thanks to a missed conversion at the death.
The Force had dominated for much of the contest, but the momentum shifted in the second half. The Highlanders fought back from a 31-16 deficit and should have secured a draw, if not a win.
The Force were reduced to 13 men for the final seven minutes, with two of their players receiving yellow cards. But even with the two-man disadvantage, they defended brilliantly, and would only succumb in the final play of the game when reserve back Hayden Parker scored for the Highlanders.
Unfortunately for the hosts, Parker's conversion attempt hit the post. The miss denied the Highlanders a draw, and allowed the Force to go away with a massive victory.
While the visitors were guilty of allowing the Highlanders back into the game, a lot could be said for their defence. Indeed, it was offensive defence that allowed them to take a 21-16 lead at half-time.
Flyhalf Sias Ebersohn scored 16 points on the night. While Ebersohn had a good game with ball in hand, it was a brilliant piece of defensive vision that would lead to his intercept try in the first half.
The Highlanders were too flat on attack, and lacked urgency on defence. They were turned over on numerous occasions, which allowed the Force to bring their dangerous backline into the game.
Ebersohn extended the visitors' lead to eight points when he goaled a penalty early in the second half. The Force then made another important turnover following a big defensive hit by Nick Cummins, and Junior Rasolea finished in the corner. With Ebersohn's touchline conversion, the Force were firmly in control at 31-16.
The Highlanders improved as the second half progressed and chipped away at the big deficit. They were in sight of a comeback victory with the score at 31-24, and would have won had they taken more of their chances in the dying stages.
They turned down several shots at goal during this period, preferring to push for the seven-pointer. While they would breach the defence in the final play of the game, Parker's conversion attempt drifted to the right and bounced off the upright.
Highlanders – Tries: Shaun Treeby, Malakai Fekitoa, Hayden Parker. Conversion: Lima Sopoaga. Penalties: Sopoaga (4).
Force – Tries: Nathan Charles, Sias Ebersohn, Ben McCalman, Junior Rasolea. Conversions: Ebersohn (4). Penalty: Ebersohn.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Kurt Baker, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Shane Christie, 6 John Hardie, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Chris King, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Subs: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Craig Millar, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Elliot Dixon, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Phil Burleigh.
Force – 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Luke Morahan, 13 Junior Rasolea, 12 Kyle Godwin, 11 Nick Cummins, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Alby Mathewson, 8 Ben McCalman, 7 Matt Hodgson (c), 6 Angus Cottrell, 5 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 4 Sam Wykes, 3 Kieran Longbottom, 2 Nathan Charles, 1 Pek Cowan.
Subs: 16 Heath Tessmann, 17 Tetera Faulkner, 18 Ollie Hoskins, 19 Adam Coleman, 20 Brynard Stander, 21 Ian Prior, 22 Zack Holmes, 23 Marcel Brache.
Photo: Rob Jefferies/Getty Images