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Western Force survive rally from Highlanders in Super Rugby

The Canadian Press

3/15/2014 1:44:58 PM

DUNEDIN, New Zealand -- The Western Force hung on with only 13 men on the field for the last 10 minutes to beat the Highlanders 31-29 in Super Rugby on Saturday.

The Force had two men, including former Wallabies No. 8 Ben McCalman, in the sin-bin in the dying minutes of the match, but were able to resist a late Highlanders' surge to post a four-try, bonus point win.

The victory followed last week's 32-7 win over the Melbourne Rebels, giving the Perth-based Force their first back-to-back wins since April 2011.

Replacement flyhalf Hayden Parker scored a try for the Highlanders in the final minute but missed a wide-angled conversion which would have given the Dunedin-based side a draw.

The Force have now won six of their eight games against the Highlanders since their admission to Super Rugby in 2006.

The Force took a 21-16 lead at halftime after a first half in which the lead changed hands four times. Hooker Nathan Charles, flyhalf Sias Ebersohn and McCalman each scored tries to give the visitors the early advantage.

Winger Junior Rasolea then added the fourth, bonus point try in the 56th minute, giving the Force a 31-16 lead which allowed them to weather the Highlanders' rally in the last quarter. The home side fought back with tries by Parker and centre Malakai Fekitoa, but couldn't bridge the gap, even with the Force short on men.

Ebersohn scored a brilliant try from an intercept and kicked five goals from five attempts -- four conversions and a penalty -- for a personal tally of 16 points.

"It's going well," Force captain Matt Hodgson said. "I think we're playing some good football now, starting games strong and, like you saw there, finishing it off with 13 men."

The Force play the unbeaten defending champion Chiefs in their next match.

The Highlanders were unable to put concerted pressure on the Force and defended poorly at times, allowing the visitors to pull away.

"We probably didn't play quite the right footy in that first half," captain Ben Smith said. "We let in a couple of soft tries which came back to bite us a bit."

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Western Force 31 (Nathan Charles, Sias Ebersohn, Ben McCalman, Junior Rasolea tries; Sias Ebersohn 4 conversions, penalty), Highlanders 29 (Shaun Treeby, Malakai Fekitoa, Hayden Parker tries; Lima Sopaga conversion, 4 penalties). HT: 21-16.