The Highlanders beat the Waratahs 40-35 in their pre-season match in Queenstown on Friday.
It was a tense battle at Queenstown Recreation Ground as the teams exchanged the lead several times. The Tahs led 21-20 at the break, but three second-half tries secured the win for the Super Rugby champions.
The Highlanders got off to a flying start as flyhalf Lima Sopoaga made an early break to send centre Malakai Fekitoa over for the opening try. Sopoaga added the extras.
The Waratahs replied with three tries from flanker Michael Hooper, centre Rob Horne and hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau. Flyhalf Kurtley Beale converted all three while Sopoaga added two penalties. Fekitoa scored his second try before the break.
The Tahs extended their advantage in the second half as Beale converted new signing Bryce Hegarty’s try before the Highlanders hit back with tries from Fekitoa, who claimed a hat-trick, and fullback Ben Smith to go ahead 32-28.
Replacement wing Zack Guildford then put the Tahs back in front before Smith scored his second try and Hayden Parker slotted a late penalty to seal the victory for the Highlanders.
Highlanders – Tries: Malakai Fekitoa (3), Ben Smith (2). Conversions: Lima Sopoaga (3). Penalties: Sopoaga (2), Hayden Parker.
Waratahs – Tries: Michael Hooper, Rob Horne, Tatafu Polota-Nau, Bryce Hegarty, Zack Guildford. Conversions: Kurtley Beale (5).
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Liam Squire, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Luke Whitelock, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown. Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Brendon Edmonds, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Mark Reddish, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Elliot Dixon, 23 Jason Emery, 24 Teihorangi Walden, 25 Matt Faddes, 26 Hayden Parker, 27 Dan Pryor.
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Rob Horne, 12 David Horwitz, 11 Andrew Kellaway, 10 Kurtley Beale, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Jed Holloway, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Dave Dennis, 5 Sam Lousi, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Angus Ta'avao, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Paddy Ryan. Subs: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Benn Robinson, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Jack Dempsey, 21 Matt Lucas, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Zac Guildford, 24 Jake Gordon, 25 Matt Carraro, 26 Senio Toleafoa, 27 Matt Sandell, 28 Hugh Roach, 29 Ned Hanigan, 30 Brad Wilkin, 31 Bernard Foley, 32 Harry Jones.
Photo: Rob Jefferies/Getty Images