Five things we learnt from Force-Highlanders

Sat, Apr 22, 2023, 11:25 AM
Nathan Williamson
by Nathan Williamson
The Western Force have claimed a crucial win over the Highlanders. Photo: Getty Images
The Western Force have claimed a crucial win over the Highlanders. Photo: Getty Images

The Western Force delivered one of their best performances of the year for a 30-17 win over the Highlanders.

They started on fire and withheld a strong second-half surge to claim a major scalp to march into the top eight.

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So what did we learn?

1 A MUCH NEEDED RESULT

Super Rugby needed an upset and the Force delivered it.

The 91%/9% tipping split didn't give a fair representation of this contest given the returning stars for the Force and the absence of Aaron Smith and Folau Fakatava.

The hosts showed they can match it on their NZ tour but tonight proved they can close out key games when it counts.

It’s the first time an Australian team has beaten a Kiwi side since Super Round.

The Force will only get better after this as well. Izack Rodda said on the pre-game broadcast he is eyeing a return in round 13 against the Brmbies whilst Folau Fainga’a (Achilles) and new recruits Isi Naisarani and Carlo Tizzano will be ready to go in the coming weeks.

2. A CALMING PRESENCE

Bryce Hegarty proved the difference for the Force on his return from a back complaint.

The step past the fullback for the opener was a thing of beauty and set the tempo for the upset.

However, it’s his kicking game that was the shining light, controlling field possession and territory with a series of pin-point strikes.

It limited the Highlanders’ chances at a comeback in the last 20 minutes whilst nailing every chance he got from the tee.

His combination with Issak Fines-Leleiwasa was electric, with the speedy half keeping the Highlanders on their heels through the contest.

3. DOUBLE TROUBLE

The Highlanders made life hard for themselves when Ethan de Groot and Pari Pari Parkinson found themselves sitting side-by-side after repeated penalties on their line in the 30th and 31st minute.

However, the Force all of a sudden fell apart when they had a two-man advantage, playing way too deep and allowing the Highlanders to just shuffle and contain.

Three prime opportunities went begging before Manasa Mataele found his way over the line.

It was two of six yellow cards issued by Nic Berry as he took a ruthless approach to any professional fouls inside the 22.

4. COMING TO THE RESCUE

Speaking of Mataele, he produced a strong contender for the best try-saver of the year.

Shannon Frizell looked to go over for the simplest of tries in the 60th minute before the winger somehow dislodged the ball.

He replicated his efforts minutes late to hold up Marino Mikaele Tu’u minutes later after a nice move from the number eight.

It speaks to the value of the winger in his 50th game, scoring a crucial try just before the half.

He struggled to break the side in front of Toni Pulu and Zach Kibirige early in the season, however, has been one of their best since his return.

5. CAN’T TAKE A TRICK

The Force have had a brutal run with injuries, only exacerbated by the opening ten minutes of this clash.

First was Ollie Callan, stretched from the field after a knock from a tackle gone wrong.

He was followed off by Toni Pulu, who was left out on his feet after a break, with his head whiplashing into the ground violently.

They rallied after the losses for a famous win, their first in over a decade over the Highlanders that saw hooker Tom Horton finish in the back-row.

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