The Highlanders scored eight tries in their 55-6 win against the Force in Perth on Saturday, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
The Force came into this match with some confidence, having beaten the Jaguares in Buenos Aires last weekend, but never looked like breaking Australia's duck against New Zealand teams this season. They were poor in the first half and even worse in the second.
The Highlanders' bonus-point win takes them 10 points clear of the Blues in the Australasian conference, and they now look set to be the fourth Kiwi side to qualify for the playoffs.
The Dunedin-based franchise led 10-0 at the end of the first quarter, thanks to a Marty Banks penalty and a converted try to Tevita Li, who was put over in the right-hand corner by some quick hands from Malakai Fekitoa and Matt Faddes.
In contrast, the Force failed to take their scoring chances in that period. Ian Prior missed an early penalty, and they blew a try when Curtis Rona broke away from halfway, took play up to the 22, but couldn't find Michael Ruru on his outside. Runa had replaced Peter Grant in the 13th minute after the flyhalf had taken a head knock.
Prior slotted two penalties to get the Force back within striking distance, but they then gifted the Highlanders a converted try when Bill Meakes – having picked up the loose ball close to his tryline – threw it straight to Aki Seiulu.
The Force were then reduced to 14 men after a deliberate knock-down from Semisi Masirewa. The Highlanders opted to scrum from the penalty, but lost possession, and the Force's clearance kick was followed by the half-time whistle.
However, the visitors did strike early in the second half when Patrick Osborne sprinted 60m to score.
With Masirewa set to return to the field, Richie Arnold was then yellow-carded for a late shoulder charge on Banks. Soon after, Seiulu crashed over for his second try to make it 31-6.
The Force were restored to 15 men in the 58th minute, but it didn't make much difference, with Rob Thompson (two), Dillon Hunt and Richard Buckman scoring tries to take the Highlanders past 50.
Force – Penalties: Ian Prior (2).
Highlanders – Tries: Tevita Li, Aki Seiulu (2), Patrick Osborne, Rob Thompson (2), Dillon Hunt, Richard Buckman. Conversions: Marty Banks (6). Penalty: Banks.
Force – 15 Luke Morahan, 14 Semisi Masirewa, 13 Curtis Rona, 12 Bill Meakes (c), 11 Alex Newsome, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Ian Prior, 8 Richard Hardwick, 7 Brynard Stander, 6 Ross Haylett-Petty, 5 Adam Coleman, 4 Richie Arnold, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Pek Cowan.
Subs: 16 Anaru Rangi, 17 Francois van Wyk, 18 Tetera Faulkner, 19 Matt Philip, 20 Lewis Carmichael, 21 Isireli Naisarani, 22 Michael Ruru, 23 James Verity-Amm.
Highlanders – 15 Matt Faddes, 14 Patrick Osborne, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Richard Buckman, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Elliott Dixon (c), 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Garth Evans, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Aki Seiulu.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Guy Millar, 18 Guy Millar, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Jackson Hemopo, 21 Aaron Smith, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Rob Thompson.