The Highlanders scored five second-half tries to overcome the Waratahs 44-28 in Dunedin on Saturday, writes MARIETTE ADAMS.
Both teams came into this game on the back of big victories in round 13 against the Force and Rebels respectively, but the Highlanders were better placed and more fancied to come away with a win.
The result sees the Highlanders extend their winning streak to nine matches, and draws them level on 45 log points with the Chiefs in second position in the New Zealand conference.
The hosts opened up a 10-0 lead after 15 minutes through a penalty from Marty Banks and a try by Richard Buckman. The centre scampered in for an opportunistic effort, after Bernard Foley’s grubber kick rebounded back into the 22 and he reacted quickest.
Despite their stronger start, the Waratahs had nothing to show for their early enterprise, but they eventually got on the board in the 20th minute. Fullback Israel Folau came into the line and from a standing start, he accelerated through the tackle of Tom Franklin to break free and score a converted effort to get the Waratahs within striking range.
Banks did convert another three-pointer, but it would be the Waratahs that surprisingly led at the break. With a penalty opportunity to close the gap, Foley’s attempt was short of the target on the stroke of half-time. But then Ben Smith, standing in the in-goal area, knocked the ball on behind the posts, granting the Waratahs one last attacking opportunity. From the scrum, Nick Phipps gave a skip pass over three of his own players to find winger Taqele Naiyaravoro, who shrugged off two would-be tacklers to score. And Foley succeeded with the touchline conversion to take the lead at the end of an intriguing half.
The second half belonged to the Highlanders. The Waratahs were reduced to 14 men after Dean Mumm was yellow-carded for a dangerous tackle. With the numerical advantage, the Highlanders ran in two tries by Liam Coltman and Tevita Li. The second of the two was particularly eye-catching, as Malakai Fekitoa put in a precise chip-kick for his wing Li to score.
There would be three further scores for the Highlanders, from Rob Thompson, Daniel Lienert-Brown and Lima Sopoaga, but replacement Waratahs scrumhalf Jake Gordon scored two tries to deny the hosts a bonus point.
Highlanders – Tries: Richard Buckman, Liam Coltman, Tevita Li, Rob Thompson, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Lima Sopoaga. Conversions: Marty Banks, Sopoaga (3). Penalties: Banks (2).
Waratahs – Tries: Israel Folau, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Jake Gordon (2). Conversions: Bernard Foley (4).
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith (co-c), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Richard Buckman, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Aki Seiuli.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon (co-c), 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Rob Thompson.
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 13 Rob Horne, 12 David Horwitz, 11 Cam Clark, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nivk Phipps, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Tom Robertson.
Subs: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Angus Taavao, 19 David McDuling, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Irae Simone.
Photo: Dianne Manson/Getty Images