Highlanders squander winning chance again
Former Highlander Jayden Hayward has helped the Western Force to a dramatic 19-18 win over his old team in Perth tonight.
The 26-year-old Taranaki product was a danger from fullback and almost as good from the kicking tee as the Highlanders slumped to their 11th loss in 12 games this season.
Hayward who played nine games for the Highlanders in 2009 and 2010, helped set up the first half try to Sias Ebersohn, and landed the winning penalty with just one minute to go.
The Highlanders had made seven changes to their starting lineup from the team which lost to the Bulls last weekend, but were under pressure for much of the first half, managing to survive 23 phases inside their 22m in the first 10 minutes.
They won enough ball and enough territory, but whenever opportunities presented themsleves, the Highlanders would come up with some sort of turnover.
You could imagine coach Jamie Joseph breathing fire in the box.
Fullback Ben Smith was in outstanding form on the counter-attack, but he lacked support once the break had been made, while Ma'a Nonu made a solid return after a frustrating knee injury which has hampered him for much of the season.
Joseph injected Andrew Hore and Colin Slade from the bench soon after the break, with Slade kicking the Highlanders back to within one point.
A head knock to Smith caused issues in the Highlanders backline, with Aaron Smith moving back to fullback to replace him and Fumiaki Tanaka coming on at halfback.
The Highlanders should have scored when Mose Tuiali'i went close, with Alby Mathewson sinbinned in the ensuing play.
Ma'a Nonu almost managed to ground the ball against the post from a 5m scrum, but the Force defence was desperate on their own goal line.
Slade landed a penalty from just his own side of the halfway line after Richard Brown's high tackle on John Hardie, to give the Highlanders an 18-16 lead with just a couple of minutes to go.
But a couple of plays later, replacement winger Tino Nemani produced a late tackle on Hayward which gave him the chance to win the game and he duly obliged. The Highlanders had the ball inside the Force 22 in the final minute, but did not set up for a match-winning dropped-goal, with the movement ending in Slade losing the ball.
Western Force 19 (Sias Ebersohn try; Jayden Hayward con, 4 pen) Highlanders 19 (Hayden Parker 2 pen, Colin Slade 4 pen). HT: 10-6