Western Force humiliated as Super Rugby finals hopes disappear in huge loss to Highlanders

Headshot of Nick Taylor
Nick TaylorThe West Australian
Scott Gregory, Folau Fakatava, and Fabian Holland of the Highlanders celebrate a try against Western Force.
Camera IconScott Gregory, Folau Fakatava, and Fabian Holland of the Highlanders celebrate a try against Western Force. Credit: Joe Allison/Getty Images

Western Force were humiliated 61-10 in their second-biggest Super Rugby loss in Friday’s flogging by the Highlanders at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin.

Their finals hopes were left in tatters by a rampant Highlanders who ran in nine tries to two.

Only the 53-0 loss to the Crusaders in 2007 was worse as shell-shocked players seemed to forget they were playing for survival.

The same problem that has dogged the Force all season, poor starts, raised its head again and left the Force chasing the game.

In past games they have leaked points early in the first half. This time they were carved up in the opening minutes of both halves.

A shambolic Force were battered by 14 points in six minutes with two more Highlanders tries before the break.

DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 13: Andrew Makalio of the Highlanders scores a try during the round 13 Super Rugby Pacific match between the Highlanders and the Western Force at Forsyth Barr Stadium on May 13, 2022 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)
Camera IconHighlanders’ Andrew Makalio scores a try. Credit: Joe Allison/Getty Images

The Force managed two of their own from Jeremy Thrush and Andrew Reddy in the first 40 minutes but when you give any Super side that kind of lead there is no coming back.

After the break they handed the Kiwis three tries in 17 minutes and to rub salt into their wounds they added two more in the dying minutes.

The Force simply had no answer to the Highlanders’ creativity and ball movement as their losing streak against New Zealand sides stretched to a shocking 24 matches.

Flanker Ollie Callan, who had an outstanding first half, did not reappear after the break, and centre Bayley Kuenzle and reserve back-rower Brynard Stander were taken off for head injury assessments.

Hooker Feleti Kaitu’u was then sin-binned and reserve centre Richard Kahui red-carded as the Force were reduced to 13 players and ran out of reserves.

DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 13: Manasa Mataele of the Force charges forward during the round 13 Super Rugby Pacific match between the Highlanders and the Western Force at Forsyth Barr Stadium on May 13, 2022 in Dunedin, New Zealand. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)
Camera IconWestern Forces Manasa Mataele tries to get through the Highlanders. Credit: Joe Allison/Getty Images

The game descended into chaos with the referee forced to order “golden oldies” uncontested scrums.

But even with 15 players the Force struggled to find any answer to the Highlanders who cemented the eighth and final qualifying spot.

The Force were expecting the unexpected when Highlanders coach Tony Brown produced a selection surprise, bringing winger Sam Gilbert into fly-half.

And the unexpected arrived with the No.1-kicking side in Super Rugby keeping the ball in hand.

The only kicking from Gilbert was his eight conversions.

Force captain Kyle Godwin said: “We were our own worst enemies. We were very much chasing the game from the start. They were on and just had a great start to that game.

“The physicality, the breakdown area, we were really poor in that area tonight. The Highlanders had a flurry of quick ball.”

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