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Western Force 'let slip' another match in huge blow to finals hopes in one-try game - but it's not all bad news

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27th April, 2024
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Nic White summed it up.

It was a step forward but “you’ve got to feel like that’s just another one that we’ve let slip through our fingers”.

It was indeed, as the Force went down 7-6 in a tale of missed chances.

In total, there were 38 turnovers. The Highlanders made 18, the Force 20.

Those two turnovers were likely the difference.

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They were inexcusable given the match was played under the roof in perfect positions for both sides.

Then again, it wasn’t surprising given both teams are slumped towards the bottom of the Super Rugby standings.

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The Force had the lion’s share of territory, forcing the Highlanders into 146 tackles compared to 101, and beat 23 defenders to seven, but they simply couldn’t convert their many opportunities into points.

“We knew it was going to be a tough one here,” White said.

“Just kind of last-pass stuff. We created opportunities and just weren’t able to capitalise.  A few too many errors.

“A big growth for us. We came over and competed well. I’m proud of the fight. It is a step forward for us.”

Nic White was one of the Force’s best backs but it was a frustrating night for the visitors against the Highlanders under the roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on April 27, 2024. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

A step forward it may have been, but the one-point defeat means the Force are now last on the competition standings and five points out of the top eight.

There were positives.

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The Force’s pack finally showed something.

The front-row of Marley Pearce, Tom Horton and Santiago Medrano managed to shave the Highlanders, whose All Blacks loose-head prop Ethan de Groot played 69 minutes, while second-rowers Sam Carter and Izack Rodda were both outstanding too. Carter was forced off with a head knock after 54 minutes but Jeremy Williams added to the side when he came on.

Carlo Tizzano was busy on both sides of the ball, too.

Marley Pearce and the Force’s forward pack had an improved showing against the Highlanders. (Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

While the Force’s backline created plenty of chances, particularly in the opening 20 minutes, they lacked the necessary patience to turn pressure into points.

“I thought our pack was outstanding. They really set a platform for us. It was a huge step for us,” White said.

“A couple of last-pass stuff, some options that we need to look at [hurt].

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“But in terms of creating opportunities, we certainly did that. The forwards did a great job in giving us a platform to be able to do that.

“Bloody disappointing, I felt like we played really well. It’s a tough one, but we’ll learn from it.”

The Highlanders dominated territory early on, but the Force managed to scramble well.

The first points of the evening came via the boot of Ben Donaldson in the 37th minute.

The Highlanders eventually got on the scoreboard through livewire halfback Folau Fakatawa, who found some space and scored in tight.

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Sensing points hard to come by, the Force decided to chip away the scoreboard by having another shot at goals.

It didn’t come immediately as Donaldson hooked his shot, but the fly-half made up for the blunder moments later to reduce the deficit to a point.

The Force had several opportunities over the next 20 minutes, but a couple of spilt balls, including from Reed Prinsep, hurt their chances of finally breaking their drought on the road.

The task ahead doesn’t get any easier, with the Force to stay in New Zealand ahead of their clash against the Chiefs in Waikato.

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