Highlanders beat Force in bruising encounter
Dunedin: The Highlanders have won a brutal encounter over the Western Force 32-20 in Dunedin to surge to the top of the Super Rugby standings. The defending champions snared their fifth successive victory but it was tougher than they may have contemplated against the abrasive visitors, who suffered a fourth straight defeat. The worst was an apparently serious injury to Force flanker Angus Cottrell, who exited on a stretcher with his neck in a brace midway through the second half following a lengthy stoppage.
All Blacks fullback Ben Smith didn’t return following a head knock soon after halftime while prop Brendon Edmonds limped off with what appeared to be a serious knee injury early in the game.
The first, to fullback Dane Haylett-Petty, came from a disastrous pass from Highlanders winger Patrick Osborne on his own tryline. Force No. 8 Ben McCalman doubled the lead before the Highlanders bagged high-octane tries to Osborne and flanker Dan Pryor to level the scores at 14-14 at halftime. Force five-eighth Peter Grant and Highlanders opposite Hayden Parker — standing in for the injured Lima Sopoaga — traded penalties before Matt Faddes started and finished another long-range try. The teams traded penalties again but the hosts sealed victory when reserve back Jason Emery crossed for their fourth try in the 76th minute. The result ended a run of four wins on Highlanders soil for the Force. Conversely, the Highlanders have won three in a row against Australian teams and will want to continue that next week against Queensland in Brisbane.