The Waratahs secured the top spot and a home semi-final with a rampant 44-16 win over the Highlanders on Sunday. BRENTON CHELIN reports.
Knowing that a win would be enough to give them an unassailable lead at the top of the combined log, the Waratahs made a massive statement after easing past a good Highlanders team in Sydney. They will head into the final week seven points clear of their nearest rivals, providing coach Michael Cheika with the opportunity to rest some of his key players.
He might be tempted to keep the momentum rolling as his charges ran in six tries to secure their sixth win on the trot. They stuttered through the first half though, with a Rob Horne try the rare highlight as the Highlanders managed to stifle them at every turn. Lima Sopoaga kept the Highlanders in touching distance with three penalties as the Waratahs headed into the shed 11-9 to the good.
An error off the kick-off by the usually reliable Ben Smith gifted the Waratahs an attacking scrum at the start of the second half and Israel said 'thank you very much' as he sliced through for his 12th try of the season. The Waratahs had their tails up and soon extended their lead through Sekope Kepu after more great interchange between forwards and backs.
The Highlanders were bitterly disappointing, offering very little on attack as the Waratahs forced them to play behind the gainline. Nick Phipps, Jacques Potgieter and Taqele Naiyaravoro completed the rout, while the Highlanders notched up a consolation effort through Phil Burleigh.
Waratahs – Tries: Rob Horne, Israel Folau, Sekope Kefu, Nick Phipps, Jacques Potgieter, Taqele Naiyaravoro. Conversions: Bernard Foley (4). Penalties: Foley (2).
Highlanders – Try: Phil Burleigh. Conversion: Hayden Parker. Penalties: Lima Sopoaga (3).
Waratahs – 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (c), 6 Stephen Hoiles, 5 Kane Dougles, 4 Jacques Potgieter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Subs: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Jeremy Tilse, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Pat McCutcheon, 21 Mitch Chapman, , 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro.
Highlanders – 15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu (c), 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Kane Hames.
Subs: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Chris King, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Lee Allan, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Phil Burleigh.
Photo: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images