Super Rugby Pacific: New first-five Sam Gilbert steers Highlanders to huge win over Western Force

Inspired performances from new first-five Sam Gilbert and No.8 Marino Mikaele-Tu'u have led the Highlanders to a resounding victory over Western Force at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Gilbert hasn't donned the No.10 since his schoolboy days, but looked every bit at home, as the southerners ran out 61-10 winners over the 10th-placed Force. 

The home side raced out of the blocks, with two tries in the first five minutes of the clash. Hooker Andrew Makalio crashed over after some nice play from a lineout, with Mikaele-Tu'u dotting down from a turnover.

Former All Blacks lock Jeremy Thrush crossed for the visitors shortly after, but the Highlanders quickly reasserted dominance with two further tries through winger Scott Gregory and Mikaele-Tu'u grabbing his second, after a powerful run off the back of the scrum.

A third yellow card of the season for Josh Dickson made way for Force hooker Andrew Ready to grab a try, after a beautiful offload from flanker Ollie Callan before halftime, as the home side went into the break with a 28-10 lead.

Prop Daniel Lienert-Brown was brought on in the second half for his 100th Super Rugby appearance, as the Highlanders quickly picked up where they left off from the first.

Makalio crashed over for his second try, after a brilliant break from Gilbert, before replacement hooker Rhys Marshall went over just minutes after coming on.

Marshall was again involved in some majestic play down the left wing, after a set-piece move from a lineout, putting replacement halfback Folau Fakatava over for the try.

Force substitute hooker Feleti Kaitu'u also saw yellow, before former All Blacks midfielder Richard Kahui was red-carded for what appeared to be an accidental clash of heads.

Flanker Billy Harmon crossed for a try, after winning a foot race against Force winger Manasa Mataele, diving on the loose ball in goal, before setting up Fakatava for his second to seal an emphatic win.

Lienert-Brown missed the final conversion from the corner, after Gilbert went a perfect 8/8 from the tee.

The Highlanders will host NSW Waratahs next week, while the Force travel to Hamilton to take on the Chiefs.

Highlanders 61 (Makalio 2, Fakatava 2, Harmon, Marshall, Gregory & Mikaele-Tu'u 2 tries, Gilbert 8 conversions) Force 10 (Thrush & Ready tries)

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