Tahs break Dunedin drought
The Waratahs have shown they won’t just be making up the numbers in the Super Rugby Pacific play-offs with a rousing 32-20 away win over the Highlanders.
Ignoring a horror record in Dunedin which dates back 14 years and chasing their first win in New Zealand since 2015, the Waratahs showed they are a different beast in 2022 to book a crucial win on Sunday.
The victory took the Waratahs (eight wins and five defeats) ahead of the Reds and into sixth on the standings.
They face a clash with the table-topping Blues back in Sydney on Saturday as the last round determines the top eight play-offs.
The Highlanders couldn’t have started better with lock Josh Dickson barging across the line in the third minute after an early turnover.
The Waratahs hit back eight minutes later when No.8 Will Harris showed some deft footwork to plant the ball between the sticks for a 7-all scoreline.
The game took a turn in the 29th minute when Highlanders flyhalf Sam Gilbert was sent off for an ugly lifting tackle in which Waratahs flank Michael Hooper was up-ended.
The Wallabies captain was making his return to play from concussion but escaped unscathed.
The visitors immediately used their numerical advantage with a long, floating pass finding winger Mark Nawaqanitawase to score.
Then Hooper showed his pace to dart from the back of a ruck, running 20 metres to score and give his team a commanding 19-7 half-time lead.
The Waratahs lost prop Paddy Ryan to a yellow card early in the second half for a head knock as he attempted to clean out.
With Waratahs fullback Ben Donaldson spilling an Aaron Smith kick, the Highlanders pounced on the loose ball and used the extra space to put centre Scott Gregory over in the corner.
After a previous penalty strike the margin was just four points with the home side on the march.
But the Waratahs refused to wilt under pressure and flyhalf Tane Edmed kept the scoreboard ticking over with two penalties.
Playing his first game since his return from Japan, forward Ned Hanigan shrugged off the defence and then off-loaded to Edmed for the Waratahs’ fourth try.
NSW attempted to chase another try after regulation time to secure a bonus point, but turned the ball over for Liam Coombes-Fabling to have the final say for the Highlanders.
For the Highlanders:
Tries: Dickson, Gregory, Coombes-Fabling
For the Waratahs
Tries: Harris, Nawaqanitawase, Edmed, Hooper
Cons: Edmed 3
Pens: Edmed 2
Red card: Sam Gilbert (Highlanders, 29 – foul play, spear tackle)
Yellow card: Paddy Ryan (Waratahs, 51 – foul play, dangerous clear-out)
Highlanders: 15 Connor Garden-Bachop, 14 Denny Solomona, 13 Josh Timu, 12 Thomas Umaga-Jensen, 11 Scott Gregory, 10 Sam Gilbert, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Marino Mikaele-Tu’u, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 James Lentjes, 5 Josh Dickson, 4 Sam Caird, 3 Jermaine Ainsley, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: 16 Andrew Makalio, 17 Luca Inch, 18 Saula Mau, 19 Max Hicks, 20 Hugh Renton, 21 Folau Fakatava, 22 Mitch Hunt, 23 Fetuli Paea
Waratahs: 15 Ben Donaldson, 14 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 13 Alex Newsome, 12 Lalakai Foketi, 11 Dylan Pietsch, 10 Tane Edmed, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Will Harris, 7 Michael Hooper, 6 Langi Gleeson, 5 Hugh Sinclair, 4 Geoff Cridge, 3 Archer Holz, 2 Dave Porecki, 1 Te Tera Faulkner
Replacements: 16 Mahe Vailanu, 17 Angus Bell, 18 Paddy Ryan, 19 Jeremy Williams, 20 Ned Hanigan, 21 Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, 22 Jack Grant, 23 Jamie Roberts
Referee: Nic Berry
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill & Angus Mabey
TMO: Chris Hart