Live updates: Super Rugby Pacific - Highlanders v Western Force at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium
BIlly Harmon in action for Highlanders. Credits: Image - Photosport, video - Newshub
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Highlanders - Makalio 2, Fakatava 2, Harmon, Marshall, Gregory & Mikaele-Tu'u 2 tries, Gilbert 8 conversions
Force - Thrush & Ready tries
40th minute - TRY to Fakatava
Kaitu'u is back on the field, so this scrum will be contested again. The siren sounds, Force hook Fakatava's feed, but the Highlanders scrum pushes them back.
When Highlanders shift right, Harmon makes a break, Lentjes makes metres, before finding Fakatava in support. To mark his 100th Super Rugby game, Lienert-Brown attempts the sideline converts and it's a pretty good effort, just hooking right.
The siren has sounded on a comprehensive performance from the Highlanders.
38th minute - TRY to Harmon
Gilbert hasn't found touch with his penalty and Force try to break out of their 22. They lose the ball, Fakatava throws a speculator pass to Harmon, who toes it forward and wins the chase.
Gilbert maintains his perefect goalkicking, HIGH 56-10
37th minute - O'Keeffe has called a scrum, but Force don't have a hooker, with Ready injured and Kaitu'u sent off. Force have also had to drop another player, because foul play has caused uncontested scrums - total confusion.
Force finally win their scrum, but Highlanders win another penalty at the breakdown.
36th minute - Force have a lineout in Highlanders 22, but Wagner's throw goes long and Highlanders charge upfield.
35th minute - O'Keeffe warns Lentjes for too many offsides.
34th minute - Force win a lineout and rumble across halfway. McIntyre stabs a kick through and Hunt is smashed in a tackle, as he gathers the bounce.
O'Keeffe is checking for a high tackle, but it's head on head by Kahui, who is shown a red card - that seems excessive. Force are down to 13 for a few minutes, until Kaitu'u returns.
33rd minute - Garden-Bachop enters the 22, but has no support and Force win a penalty at the ruck.
32nd minute - Force win a penalty in their own 22, but fail to find touch. Coombes-Fabling kicks deep and Highlanders get the ball back.
31st minute - Reserve prop Wagner is throwing into the Force lineout and they win one.
30th minute - Without a hooker, Force lose their throw to the lineout and Marshall kicks towards the Force 22.
29th minute - Highlanders barely win an untidy lineout, but Garden-Bachop puts a kick ahead, gathered by Mataele, who dashes towards halfway.
Ralston tries to chip ahead, his kick is charged down, but Highlanders are offside.
28th minute - Highlanders have a penalty n their own half and Gilbert finds touch near the Force 10.
O'Keeffe is reviewing possible foul play by the Force and Kaitu'u has made high contact on Mau, so that's a yellow card.
26th minute - Lentjes scurries over the 22, but Hunt's long pass is picked off by Mataele and Force clear into Highlanders half.
25th minute - Hunt replaces Gregory, but Gilbert stays at first-five, Hunt to fullback.
Highlanders win the lineout and Garden-Bachop finds a half-gap, but no-one in support.
24th minute - Marshall throws long and misses all his forwards. Force recover and Prior clears towards halfway.
23rd minute - Gilbert kicks to the corner...
22nd minute - Force win their scrum on halfway, but there's no way through the Highlanders defence and the home side win another breakdown penalty.
21st minute - O'Keeffe brings them back for the knock-on in centrefield.
20th minute - From the kickoff, Harmon pounces on a loose ball and Highlanders enter Force half, but spill the ball.
18th minute - TRY to Fakatava
Marshall throws short to the lineout and receives the ball back. He sprints towards the tryline and puts a kick ahead, where Fakatava chases and scores. Brilliant move.
Gilbert bends his kick between the posts and is still perfect tonight, HIG 49-10
17th minute - Godwin makes a nice run for the Force, but Highlanders turn the ball over at the ruck - it's Fakatava.
16th minute - Holland is new on the field and steals the Force lineout throw inside his own half.
15th minute - Force have the ball back from their kickoff and playing under advantage, after the Highlanders push Mataele into Strachan, who is airborne to claim the kick.
13th minute - TRY to Marshall
Fakatava replaces Aaron Smith. Evans wins a long lineout throw and Highlanders maul towards the tryline under advantage, but they don't need it, as the maul carries Marshall over.
Gilbert grazes the right upright and deflects between the posts, HIG 42-10
12th minute - When the ball shifts left, Gregory enters the 22, but a pass goes astray and O'Keeffe brings them back for an offside penalty.
11th minute - Kahui kicks to the corner again. Force win a short throw and release left, but a pass goes astry and Highlanders break out of their half, with Paea.
10th minute - Thrush win the lineout and Foce maul towards the line. Renton collapses the maul and Force have penalty advantage.
Ninth minute - Big Force scrum wins a penalty against the feed and Kahui kicks to the corner.
Eighth minute - Highlanders win a free-kick at the scrum, but want another one.
Seventh minute - Kahui kicks to the Highlanders 22 and Thrush wins the lineout. Force enter the 22, but Mikaele-Tu'u makes a big tackle and dislodges the ball, and O'Keeffe plays a small advantage, before bringing them back for the knock-on.
Sixth minute - Force playing under advantage and Ready is smashed in a tackle by Gregory. Pasitoa spills a pass and O'Keeffe brings them back to the penalty.
Fifth minute - Kuenzle is being replaced by former All Black and Highlander Richard Kahui. Pasitoa kicks off and Force have the ball back to launch an attack.
Third minute - TRY to Makalio
Gilbert kicks to the corner and Dickson returns to play. Evans wins the lineout, Gilbert steams onto the ball and Makalio barrells over for his second by the posts.
Gilbert converts from in front, HIG 35-10
Second minute - Highlanders win a lineout and Gregory runs powerfully in midfield. They have a penalty advantage, but Gilbert finds a gap and offloads to Paea.
First minute - Highlanders still have a couple more minutes with Dickson on the sideline. Lienert-Brown has replaced de Groot, who was looking worse for wear at halftime.
From the kickoff, Force receive the ball back and inside Highlanders half, but the Landers win a clearing penalty at the breakdown.
40th minute - Highlanders are offside and O'Keeffe is playing more advantage. Kuenzle kicks towards the 22 for a lineout.
Rodda wins the lineout and stream into the 22, but the move breaks down and Highlanders win a clearing penalty after the siren. Smith taps and kicks to touch to end the half.
39th minute - Force win the lineout and shift left, but Pasitoa kicks aimlessly again and Gregory easily claims the mark.
38th minute - O'Keeffe takes them back for the penalty and Kuenzle finds touch inside Highlanders half.
37th minute - Force win a lineout on their 22 and maul forward, eventually winning a penalty.
36th minute - Force secure the kickoff, but Pasitoa's clearing kick is charged down. Pasitoa retreats to smother the bouncing ball and Prior' clearance doesn't find touch.
34th minute - TRY to Ready
From the penalty, Force kick to the corner and win the lineout, pouring towards the tryline. Callan offloads to Ready, who barrells over to score.
Prior misses another conversion badly, HIG 28-10
33rd minute - O'Keeffe is checking on a report of foul play. He's reviewing Dickson's tackle, remembering he has had trouble in this regard all season.
Dickson gets a yellow card and the Highlanders are a man short for 10 minutes.
32nd minute - Force win a lineout in Highlanders half, but Dickson reads an inside pass to stop the movement. Lentjes is penalised for not staying upright in the ruck and Kuenzle looks to the corner.
30th minute - Dickson wins the lineout and Umaga-Jensen makes a powerful run in centrefield. Makalio is over the line, but held up for a goal-line dropout.
29th minute - Pasitoa's clearing kick is aimless and Force are penalised for men in front of the kicker, so Highlanders kick to the corner again.
28th minute - Gilbert clears to his 10 and Lentjes wins the lineout. Smith clears into Force half.
27th minute - Big Highlanders scrum wins a clearing penalty from near their own line.
26th minute - Force win a free-kick at the scrum, but Pasitoa spills a pass with the line beckoning.
25th minute - Force win the lineout and move left, winning penalty advantage. O'Keeffe eventually brings them back for a scrum in front of the posts.
24th minute - From the kickoff, Force win a penalty and kick inside the Highlanders 22.
22nd minute - TRY to Mikaele-Tu'u
From the scrum, the No.8 runs off the back and uses Umaga-Jensen as the decoy to distract the last defenders and score.
Gilbert has had to retreive the ball from the Zoo and O'Keeffe gives him the countdown, but he eventually slots the conversion, HIG 28-5
20th minute - Makalio and de Groot go close to scoring at close range, but O'Keeffe is playing advantage and takes them back for Force offside. Smith opts for the scrum in front of the posts.
19th minute - Highlanders win the lineout and put a kick into the Force 22, where Mataele is caught flatfooted. Highlanders win a penalty and tap quickly...
18th minute - Pasitoa lobs a long pass to Kuenzle on the left touchline, but the ball spills through his hands and into touch.
17th minute - Gregory claims the kickoff and Smith kicks high towards halfway, where the Force build an attack.
15th minute - TRY to Gregory
Force find touch inside Highlanders half, but lose their lineout and the Landers break over halfway. Umaga-Jense bursts from the ruck and when he's tackled, he finds Gregory on his left shoulder to score.
Gilbert converts, HIG 21-5
14th minute - Gilbert charges through the defensive line, looking for an offload, but Force win a clearing penalty from the breakdown.
13th minute - From the kickoff, Prior clears, but Highlanders have the ball inside Force half. Umaga-Jensen puts a bouncing kick through, but Kuenzle tidies up.
Highlanders still building phases near halfway...
10th minute - TRY to Thrush
From the scrum, Force enter the 22 and find space down the right, where Prior almost scores. From the next phase, the former All Blacks lock powers over for the try.
Prior misses a handy conversion, HIG 14-5
Eighth minute - Evans claims the kickoff, but is held up in the maul and Force win the turnover outside the Highlanders 22.
Fifth minute - TRY to Mikaele-Tu'u
From the kickoff, Force have the ball back and trying to breaki over halfway, but the Highlanders win ruck ball and break down the left. Mikaele-Tu'u sets Harmon running towards the line and when he's brought down, the ball moves left, where Mikaele-Tu'u pops up to score in the corner.
Gilbert slots another conversion, HIG 14-0
Third minute - TRY to Makalio
Dickson wins the lineout and Makalio drives off the back. After a couple of phases, Makalio has his hands on the ball to rumble over the tryline.
Gilbert guides his conversion between the posts, HIG 7-0
Second minute - O'Keeffe was playing advantage for a high tackle and Gilbert kicks to the corner.
First minute - Ben O'Keeffe will referee this contest, with Sam Gilbert kicking off for the Highlanders.
Mataele secures the ball and Prior clears downfield. Highlanders quickly back in Force half and probing down the left.
Kia ora, good evening and welcome to Newshub's live coverage of the Super Rugby Pacific clash between the Highlanders and Western Force at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium.
After a rocky start to the competition, when local derbies didn't treat them well, the Highlanders seem to have found their groove over the past couple of weeks, with a gutsy win over Fijian Drua at Suva and another over Queensland Reds at Brisbane.
They now have a great chance of sneaking into the playoffs through the back door, but a win at home over the Western Australians - their closest challengers - would go a long way to sealing a top-eight spot.
Coach Tony Brown has taken the unexpected step of promoting fullback/wing utility Sam Gilbert into the No.10 jersey, a position he played at college, but never at this level.
Prop Daniel Lienert-Brown will clock his 100th Super Rugby game - 98 for the Highlanders and two for the Crusaders - off the bench, while veteran lock Bryn Evans will make his 50th appearance in the competition, 14 years removed from his debut for the Blues.
Join us for the 7pm kickoff.
TAB Odds: Highlanders $1.09, Force $5.25
Highlanders: 1-Ethan de Groot, 2-Andrew Makalio, 3-Jermaine Ainsley, 4-Bryn Evans, 5-Josh Dickson, 6-James Lentjes (cc), 7-Billy Harmon, 8-Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 9-Aaron Smith (ccc), 10-Sam Gilbert, 11-Scott Gregory, 12-Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 13-Josh Timu, 14-Fetuli Paea, 15-Connor Garden-Bachop
Reserves: 16-Rhys Marshall, 17-Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18-Saula Mau, 19-Fabian Holland, 20-Hugh Renton, 21-Folau Fakatava, 22-Mitch Hunt, 23-Liam Coombes-Fabling
Force: 1-Tom Robertson, 2-Andrew Ready, 3-Santiago Medrano, 4-Jeremy Thrush, 5-Izack Rodda, 6-Fergus Lee-Warner, 7-Ollie Callan, 8-Tim Anstee, 9-Ian Prior, 10-Reesjan Pasitoa, 11-Manasa Mataele, 12-Bayley Kuenzle, 13-Kyle Godwin, 14-Byron Ralston, 15-Jake Strachan
Reserves: 16-Feleti Kaitu'u, 17-Angus Wagner, 18-Bo Abra, 19-Ryan McCauley, 20-Brynard Stander, 21-Michael McDonald, 22-Jake McIntyre, 23-Richard Kahui'Job's not done': Highlanders target playoffs after Super Rugby recovery
by Alex Powell
After a slow start that had them at the foot of the Super Rugby Pacific table, the Highlanders feel like they've found what it will take to play playoff football.
As the Blues and Crusaders emerged as Kiwi teams to beat, the southerners endured arguably the worst start to the 2022 campaign across either side of the Tasman.
Tony Brown's side lost their first six games and seven of their first eight, before the NZ and Australian conferences crossed over.
The Highlanders celebrate against Moana Pasifika. Photo credit: Image - Getty Images
But since their defeat to the Brumbies, the Highlanders have won their last two, beating Fijian Drua in Fiji, before victory against Aussie champions Queensland Reds last weekend.
Those results have propelled the Highlanders into the top eight, putting a playoffs spot within their grasp with three matches still to play.
According to assistant coach Clarke Dermody, the change in fortunes has breathed new life into the Highlanders' season.
"The boys are definitely excited," Dermody said. "Obviously, winning makes a big difference, but our weeks haven't changed all year, it's just the results are starting to turn.
"As long as we keep nailing every week the same, hopefully the performances [will] take care of themselves."
The Highlanders post-season push begins Friday, with their first home game in nearly a month against Western Force at Dunedin.
Currently 10th on the ladder, the Force are one of the teams challenging the Highlanders for that last finals spot, so Dermody insists the team's focus won't shift.
"The job's not done. We understand the position we put ourselves in.
"We started the season pretty slowly, by our standards, and now we've given ourselves a chance, but we've still got to play the Force and the Rebels - teams fighting with us for that spot.
"We understand how big the game is in the context of our season. It's a matter of making sure we get this week right - it's going to be pretty important."
Should the Highlanders take that final playoff spot, they'd likely face either the Blues or Brumbies in their quarter-final, but always happy to play the underdog, Dermody asserts they will back themselves against any opponent.
"If we can get there, if we can sneak into that top eight, we feel like we can play anyone. It's a knockout game.
"It's matter of us getting there and getting a win over the Force, who are a direct opponent of getting there."