Parker miss costs Highlanders
Hayden Parker could not convert his own late try as the Highlanders went down to a dramatic 31-29 defeat to the Western Force on Saturday.
With the Force down to 13 men in the closing stages, Parker crashed over out wide but he could not nail the kick that would have levelled the scores in Dunedin.
Shaun Treeby and Malakai Fekitoa also went over for the Highlanders with Lima Sopoaga booting 14 points, while Nathan Charles, Sias Ebersohn, Ben McCalman and Junior Rasolea secured a bonus point for the visitors as Ebersohn added another 11 to the total.
Looking to replicate their electric start from their last outing against the Rebels, the Force showed good patience from the outset and they crossed for the opening try from a rolling maul which saw hooker Charles touch down.
The Highlanders made an initial response with two penalties, but no sooner was there a restart than the Force kicked the ball dead.
From the resulting scrum, Alby Mathewson was ruled offside and Sopoaga promptly goaled from distance to claim the lead in the 18th minute.
Ebersohn compensated for his kick-off error by picking off an attempted long pass by home hooker Liam Coltman to race in from 40 metres out and added the conversion to move the Force ahead.
Working their way back into the Force 22, the Highlanders produced a set-piece play from a scrum with number eight Nasi Manu feeding to Aaron Smith, who fired a kick through for Treeby to win the ball for the try.
However, just on half-time, some hard yards were gained by wing Luke Morahan, who took play to within 10 metres of the Highlanders' line, and from the ruck McCalman shook off a tackle attempt to go in under the posts.
Ebersohn's conversion gave the Force a 21-16 lead at half-time and he quickly added a penalty after the break as desperation grew for the Highlanders.
They looked to run the ball through midfield in the 55th minute, but a pass from Treeby to Fekitoa saw the catcher receive the ball and be tackled by Nick Cummings at the same instant.
The ball dropped free and Sopoaga's attempted kick was charged down by Rasolea, who held the ball to outpace the defence and score in the corner.
The Highlanders response was immediate and they had reward for keeping ball in hand after strong runs by Kane Hames, Sopoaga and Fekitoa to see the latter over the line.
Force replacement loose forward Adam Coleman and McCalman, who had been a key contributor, were then both sin-binned in the 72nd minute to give the Highlanders more hope.
A five-metre scrum was forced, and collapsed by the Force, but finally the chance came and Parker crossed wide out, although he could not add the extras that would have tied the game.