Western Force 48
Moana Pasifika 28
The race for eighth place on the Super Rugby ladder will go down to the final match of the season.
Coming into the final week of the regular season, the Highlanders held the spot with an eight-point buffer on the Western Force. However, with the Force having a game in hand, they were still very much alive in the hunt for the playoffs.
After a 48-28 bonus-point win over Moana Pasifika at Mt Smart Stadium on Tuesday night, their hopes of featuring in the knockout stages remain alive.
Securing the bonus point over Moana Pasifika was an important element of the result for the Force, making the equation for theirs and the Highlanders' final matches that much easier.
Should the Force upset the Hurricanes in Perth early on Sunday morning (NZ time), the Highlanders will need to beat the Rebels in Melbourne on Sunday afternoon. Because the Force secured the bonus point against Moana Pasifika, a losing bonus-point will not be enough for the Highlanders to hang on to eighth should the Force get the result.
If the Hurricanes beat the Force, the Highlanders will qualify for the playoffs regardless of their result.
The Force came out playing like a team whose season was on the line, matching Moana Pasifika in their willingness to use the ball and having success in the collision areas, which is an area Moana Pasifika have excelled this season.
It was a frantic match throughout and far from the prettiest display of rugby, as both sides were looking to ask questions but often undoing their own work through poor handling or discipline.
It was the Force who got on the board first with hooker Andrew Ready going over from a lineout drive from close range – an area of concern for the whole campaign for the Moana Pasifika side.
A couple of moments of brilliance from Tima Fainga'anuku gave the hosts a lead, however the Force made the most of a Levi Aumua yellow card, and struck through Jack McIntyre. With Byron Ralston breaking through on the stroke of halftime, the visitors took the lead and momentum into the break.
A try early in the second half to Toni Pulu gave the Force belief that the bonus point was there for the taking, and they went in search of it.
While the Force broke out to a big lead with a second try to McIntyre, before Moana Pasifika prop Ezekiel Lindenmuth and Force flanker Jackson Pugh traded tries.
While the Force tried to put the foot down, Moana Pasifika wouldn't go away. They pulled another try back through reserve prop Tau Koloamatangi – taking away the bonus point for the Force with 10 minutes to play.
That led to a wild, end-to-end final stanza, but the Force were eventually able to secure the extra point in the 78th minute through Kyle Godwin, setting up a big finish on the final day of the campaign.
Western Force 48 (Jake McIntyre 2, Andrew Ready, Byron Ralston, Toni Pulu, Jackson Pugh, Kyle Godwin tries; Ian Prior 4 cons, pen; Michael McDonald con)
Moana Pasifika 28 (Tima Fainga'anuku 2, Ezekiel Lindenmuth, Tau Koloamatangi tries; Lincoln McClutchie 4 cons)