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Super Rugby match report: Western Force beat Highlanders in foot-of-the table clash
Western Force secured a 19-18 victory against the Highlanders in Perth on Saturday in a dramatic Super Rugby encounter which went down to the wire.
The Force came out on the front foot but met a resilient Highlanders defence with the hosts making just one metre from 21 phases of play.
Highlanders eventually turned the ball over but Jayden Hayward sent the ball back into the visitors' territory. The Force spread the ball wide to find Sias Ebersohn who touched down the only try of the match which was followed by a successful conversion from the touchline by full-back Hayward.
The visitors registered their first points midway through the first period when fly-half Hayden Parker slotted home a penalty kick. A knock on from Aaron Smith allowed Hayward to reopen a seven-point advantage for the Force.
Parker seized the opportunity to put the Highlanders within four points with a second penalty as the Force entered the interval with a 10-6 advantage.
The Highlanders were quickest out of the blocks following the restart as full-back Ben Smith made an exceptional break through the Force defence before replacement kicker Colin Slade slotted home a three-pointer to reduce the deficit to one.
Both sides faltered in discipline during the second period with several penalties as the Force re-established the gap through Hayward before Slade retaliated to double his tally and close game up once again.
Hayward gave the Force some breathing space with yet another set piece before the hosts were reduced to 14 men when Alby Mathewson was shown a yellow card for a professional foul. The Highlanders made the most of their advantage in personnel with the Force defence under intense pressure and eventually conceding a penalty as the visitors moved within a point once more.
Slade had a chance to put the Highlanders in the lead from the kicking tee but was off target before nailing a 51-metre shot a minute later to put the visitors in front for the first time in the match. The lead was short-lived however as Tino Nemani took out Hayward off the ball in a moment of madness to allow the Force back to hit the winning strike through the posts.
Defeat in the bottom of the table clash means the Highlanders are rooted at the foot of Super Rugby with the Force six points ahead in 14th.