Western Force 41 Otago Highlanders 27
The impressive Remarkables mountain range was the backdrop today as the Western Force defeated a determined Highlanders in Queenstown, scoring six tries in the process.
Remarkable really, considering they’ve virtually doubled their season try tally in one hit. Not only that but they’ve moved up the leader board to 12th place and there’s every likelihood they’ll climb higher.
My notes (written late in the game) say “Sharpie calling the lineout throws to himself”, “The substitutes bench has had a huge impact on this game” and “Hill has adapted to the pace of Super 14”.
These comments indicate that Nathan Sharpe, Coach John Mitchell and five eighth David Hill used all their experience and guile to close out this match.
This game was no pushover as the lead changed numerous times and nobody dominated on the scoreboard until the last 15 minutes.
In fact, the Force should have led by a much more than 10-6 at halftime such was their preponderance of territory (77%) and possession (61%).
This balanced out to some degree in the second half as the Highlanders put the pressure on and scored three tries themselves, including a stunner from Fetu’u Vainikolo at the death.
But it was the Force who should be given the plaudits. David Hill controlled this match within an inch of its life with his firm direction, tactical kicking and attacking nous.
Accurate Garryowen’s, attacking grubber kicks and yardage gained up the touchline. Fantastic.
He’s improved in every game that he’s played since he arrived from Japan. It was always going to take a bit of adaption and today it bore ample fruit.
I’m not sure whether he’ll be back next year or not but they’ll need to sign him up pronto if he’s available.
Not far behind was Rabbit O’Connor. Safe as houses at the back and such an attacking threat with ball in hand, he was popping up everywhere.
84 Kilos? You’re kidding – he was pushing off props. His tactical kicking was also marvellous.
But best of all, Ryan Cross is coming back into some form. He was running at holes instead of blokes and was solidity personified. Hill was responsible for some of this but it’s certainly timely.
The Wallaby loose trio of Pocock, Brown and Hodgson were industrious and got better as the game wore on. Sharpe was an excellent leader and go-forward man, and Fairbrother and Whittaker shone in the tight.
The first try was scored by Cameron Shepherd, on his comeback….and on his back! Like Pierre Spies the other day, he was tackled on an angled run just out from the posts but ending up on his back – he gently placed the ball on the whitewash for a meat pie.
This was scored in the defensive channel where Captain Jimmy Cowan would have been situated….that’s if he’d been on the park, but setting the example for his troops he was yellow carded for a professional foul.
Not only that, he was also involved in a fight which resulted in his cousin (I assume they’re all related if they’re from NZ) Pek Cowan and Clint Newland being marched temporarily.
Anyhow, Shepherd scored two tries today, the second off a splendid Sam Harris break late in the game.
After halftime, Rabbit latched onto a fortunate bounce from a speculator kick behind the opposition tryline and dotted down for a five pointer. It was one at this end and a couple at the other as the Highlanders responded with tries to King and Setephano.
The Highlanders were leading 19-15 when at about the 60 min mark Mitchell put on most of his substitutes including Tucky Dunning, McCalman (to lock), Charles, Turner and Harris.
These changes had an immediate impact. A move which contained at least nine phases resulted in Cross…..crossing for a meat pie. Then it all opened up.
Justin Turner scored a beauty which gave the Force the bonus point. Harry made an incisive break and passed inside to Pocock who took it into the Highlanders 22m, finally off-loading to Turner who scored.
Next up, Cross was put into a huge gap by Turner after an attacking scrum and dotted down followed by Shepherd’s second.
This was a relatively loose game that contained plenty of turnovers and mistakes but it was fairly exciting, notwithstanding both their positions on the ladder.
The Force scrum was threatening and even came close to a pushover try, the lineout was effective but the breakdown was poor. Highlander counter rucking and aggression dominated this facet of the game.
Worst of all was turnovers and ball security at the restart. The Force weren’t the only ones responsible but they committed basic errors that resulted in pressure on themselves which on one occasion led to an opposition try.
For the Highlanders Hayden Triggs and Adam Thomson worked hard in the forwards, and Jason Shoemark and Ben Smith looked the goods in their backs.
Other highlights included:
- Bam Pocock knocking the ball out of Vainikolo’s grasp over the tryline in a George Gregan/Jeff ‘Goldie’ Wilson moment (who coincidentally was also from Otago).
- Cowan and Newlands walking off together to the sin bin (we were anticipating a Kevin Tamati/Greg Dowling ‘blue’ on the way).
- The vista from the Queenstown Events Centre up into the mountains was simply stunning.
Lance’s Man of the Match: David Hill.