The Force earned a bonus point in their 33-28 victory over the Highlanders in Perth.
Both sides had nothing to play for in terms of the play-offs but for the Force it was a farewell for Matt Giteau, Drew Mitchell, Josh Valentine and Scott Staniforth.
They started perfectly as Giteau’s grubber sent Ryan Cross over in the first minute, while exemplary hands then sent Staniforth through. Two penalties gave the hosts a comfortable 16-0 lead after 20 minutes.
Both sides were coming off tours to South Africa, but the Landers looked the more jaded, especially on defence. On attack they were willing, but David Pocock and co turned over ball at crucial times as the Landers committed too many men to the breakdowns, which created space out wide.
One such occasion led to Staniforth’s second, Giteau showing the Force faithful exactly the vision and skill they’ll be missing with his outrageous cross-field kick that set the winger up. This wasn’t the only occasion Giteau was prominent as his dominant display on the evening was yet again another masterclass from the world’s form flyhalf. When the Force weren’t attacking it was invariably Giteau who was dominating the territorial battle as he pinged the Landers in their own territory.
At 23-0 up at the break the Force were expected to roll the Landers, but as the visitors got more ball in the early stages wing Ben Smith cantered over.
Normal proceedings then resumed as Haig Sare cruised over to claim the bonus point.
All of a sudden though the Landers were back in it with Smith at the forefront. For once Giteau made an errant kick and the winger latched onto the chip, then he sent lock Tom Donnelly over under the posts. The Highlanders aren’t renowned for their enterprising play but in Smith and fullback Israel Dagg they have two of the most promising youngsters to add to the plethora of game-breakers in Kiwi rugby.
At 33-21 the Force had some anxious moments as the Landers pressurised, with one try disallowed by a forward pass. Jimmy Cowan crossed after the hooter had sounded, but by that time the 26 second-half points were too late to force a comeback.
By Grant Ball