VIDEO: Highlanders cruise past wobbly Waratahs
SUPER RUGBY TRANS-TASMAN REPORT: Australia’s nightmare continued on Saturday as the Highlanders cruised past a hopelessly outclassed Waratahs team.
Outscoring their opponents by nine tries to two, without being required to shift out of second gear, the Highlanders won 59-23.
At half-time, trailing just by 10 points (23-33) the Waratahs may have thought they could still cause an upset.
However, a second-half shut-out saw the hosts score four unanswered tries for a bonus-point win.
It leaves Aussie teams with just one win in 18 matches this season.
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The Waratahs are also staring down the barrel of a historic and humiliating winless season.
In racking up their most points ever against the Sydney outfit, the Highlanders extended the Waratahs’ unprecedented losing streak to 12 matches.
If they can’t beat the Chiefs next Saturday in Sydney, the Waratahs will complete a season without a win for the first time in 35 years.
Highlanders, in turn, kept themselves in the race for a place in the Final.
The Highlanders moved to second on the ladder alongside the Crusaders and behind the Blues, with Hurricanes also in contention to make the decider.
“It’s game on,” said Highlanders skipper Ash Dixon, whose team faces the Brumbies in the competition’s final regular season round next week.
“I’m pretty pleased with that one. We wanted to play with a bit of passion and put on a performance for possibly our last game at home.”
NSW vice-captain Alex Newsome spoke pre-game of the emotional toll the Waratahs’ dismal campaign had already taken on the players and Saturday’s soul-destroying display won’t have helped.
Even former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, who guided the Waratahs to their only Super Rugby title in 2014, was left pulling what’s left of his hair out.
Somewhat miraculously, given their “touch rugby” defence – as New Zealand commentators put it – the Waratahs actually led at the half-hour mark.
But schoolboy errors cost them heavily as the Highlanders converted their 33-23 half-time lead into a commanding bonus-point triumph.
Cheika said he felt for Waratahs co-coaches Chris Whitaker and Jason Gilmore and for young props Andrew Tuala and Darcy Breen, who held their own at scrum time only to be let down by teammates.
“Coach Whitaker must be going mad up there, honestly,” Cheika said, shaking his head in the Nine commentary box.
“Like, some of the stuff they do is awesome and some of the stuff they do you want to close your eyes.
“You saw the missed tackle count, they haven’t missed a lot of tackles but they’ve just made some terrible decisions and reads.
“It’s almost like frustration, yeah, is a word that could resonate for everyone watching and definitely for the lads sitting up in the coaches’ box.”
The Waratahs’ biggest names were among the major culprits, with scrumhalf and captain Jake Gordon and fullback and fellow Wallaby Jack Maddocks extremely poor, lazy even, in defence.
In another major worry for defence coach Gilmore, who has designs on the fulltime head-coaching role, tackling went out the window during an astonishing 66-point first half.
There were seven lead changes before the interval but, unfortunately for the Waratahs, it was they who trailed after conceding five of the seven tries.
Perhaps the biggest concern for Whitaker and Gilmore, apart from the meek defence, was the Tahs’ inability to exit their own half from kicks-offs.
The Waratahs let in all five of the Highlanders’ first-half tries immediately after posting points themselves, which they accrued either through lovely tries to Maddocks and wing Mark Nawaqanitawase or the super boot of five-eighth Will Harrison.
Harrison, who delivered a Steve-Larkin-like ball-in-front bullet pass for Maddocks’ try, was easily the Waratahs’ best performer and finished with 13 points from his perfect goal-kicking display.
But it was all the Highlanders, whose victory lifted them above the Crusaders into second spot behind the Blues and on track for the June 19 tournament final.
Man of the match: At the back of a dominant pack Highlanders backs like Michael Collins, Jona Nareki and Sio Tomkinson had a feast and scored four tries between them. However, it was the big boys up front who laid the platform – No.8 Kazuki Himeno and hooker Ash Dixon also getting in on the try-scoring act. Our award goes to big Southland prop Ethan De Groot – who scored two of the Highlanders’ tries, plenty of carries and a team-high 11 tackles.
For the Highlanders
Tries: Collins, Tomkinson, De Groot 2, Dixon, Nareki 2, Himeno, Ben-Nicholas
Cons: Hunt 7
For the Waratahs
Tries: Maddocks, Nawaqanitawase
Cons: Harrison 2
Pens: Harrison 3
Highlanders: 15 Josh Ioane, 14 Sio Tomkinson, 13 Michael Collins, 12 Scott Gregory, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Kayne Hammington, 8 Kazuki Himeno, 7 Billy Harmon, 6 James Lentjes, 5 Bryn Evans, 4 Pari Pari Parkinson, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Ash Dixon (captain), 1 Ethan de Groot.
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Josh Hohneck, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Hugh Renton, 21 James Arscott, 22 Sam Gilbert, 23 Teariki Ben-Nicholas.
Waratahs: 15 Jack Maddocks, 14 Alex Newsome, 13 Izaia Perese, 12 Lalakai Foketi, 11 Mark Nawaqanitawase, 10 Will Harrison, 9 Jake Gordon (captain), 8 Jack Dempsey, 7 Carlo Tizzano, 6 Lachlan Swinton, 5 Jack Whetton, 4 Jeremy Williams, 3 Darcy Breen, 2 David Porecki, 1 Andrew Tuala.
Replacements: 16 Robbie Abel, 17 Chris Talakai, 18 TBC, 19 Sam Caird, 20 Will Harris, 21 Rahboni Warren-Vosayaco, 22 Jack Grant, 23 Tane Edmed.
Referee: Damon Murphy
Assistant referees: James Doleman, Jono Brendin
TMO: Chris Hart