VIDEO: Highlanders stay alive with blowout in the deep south
SUPER RUGBY REPORT: The Highlanders kept alive their slim hope of reaching the play-offs when they blew the Waratahs away – a 49-12 win in Invercargill on Friday.
While the Highlanders now rely on some other matches to go their way this weekend, at least they put their foot in the door with a seven- tries-to-two demolition.
The match was effectively over as a contest by the end of the first quarter, when the Highlanders held a 21-0 lead. That became 42-7 at half-time, with a brief reprieve for the Waratahs around the half-hour mark.
The second half was a scrappy affair in testing conditions – each team adding one more try.
RACAP -AS IT HAPPENED: Did you miss any of the action? Follow all the drama here!
The result was never in doubt as the Highlanders seized control with a six-try blitz in the first half.
Although they keep their season alive, they still need the Lions to lose against the Bulls or the Chiefs to beat the Rebels without a bonus point.
But they could have done no more, making a flying start that stunned the Waratahs.
“We knew we had to score some tries so we’ve done our part and at times played some really good footy,” captain Luke Whitelock said.
While the Highlanders’ 52-0 victory over Japan’s Sunwolves in April was numerically superior, the way they dismantled the Waratahs showed a class they have struggled to find this year.
The result avenged a quarter-final loss to the Waratahs in Sydney last year, the last time the two teams met.
It also continues a nine-game losing streak in New Zealand for the Sydneysiders, whose last win on Kiwi soil came in 2015.
The Waratahs were without Wallabies Michael Hooper, Rob Simmons, Sekope Kepu, Bernard Foley and Kurtley Beale, who were all rested under Rugby Australia policy for a World Cup year.
The loss ends a difficult season for New South Wales, marred by the acrimonious mid-season departure of their best player Israel Folau over social media comments, which caused numerous off-field distractions.
Fullback Josh McKay made a perfect start for the Highlanders in the seventh minute, kicking the ball from deep in his own half, then sprinting in pursuit and crossing the line.
Wing Tevita Li added another in the left corner three minutes later and the hosts doggedly worked the ball through 19 phases for a third from Tom Franklin.
Waisake Naholo powered his way over the line for a fourth to make it 28-0 after 25 minutes.
A well-taken try for Alex Newsome finally put the Waratahs on the board but their joy was short-lived as the Highlanders were given a penalty try after Tom Robertson pulled down a line-out drive.
Robertson also earned himself a yellow card and Tei Walden notched a sixth extending the Highlanders’ lead to 42-7.
Flyhalf Mack Mason added a second for the Waratahs with eight minutes to go but Rob Thompson had the final say for the Highlanders with a try in the last minute.
Man of the match: It almost seems unfair to single out a player in a game as one-sided as this. The fact is, the Waratahs didn’t turn up and hardly fired a shot in anger. The Highlanders more motivated and we eventually decided to give it to veteran hooker Liam Coltman, who featured in his 100th Super Rugby game for the Highlanders.
For the Highlanders:
Tries: McKay, Li, Franklin, Naholo, Penalty try, Walden, Thompson
Cons: Ioane 5, penalty try does not require a conversion, Dixon
For the Waratahs:
Tries: Newsome, Mason
Yellow card: Tom Robertson (Waratahs, 35 – cynical foul, illegally collapsing a maul)
Highlanders: 15 Josh McKay, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (captain), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Elliot Dixon.
Waratahs: 15 Alex Newsome, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Lalakai Foketi, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Mack Mason, 9 Nick Phipps (captain), 8 Hugh Sinclair, 7 Will Miller, 6 Michael Wells, 5 Tom Staniforth, 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Tom Robertson, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Harry Johnson-Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Tuala, 17 Rory O’Connor, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Jack Dempsey, 22 Jake Gordon, 23 Tautalatasi Tasi.
Referee: Mike Fraser (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand), James Munro (New Zealand)
TMO: Glenn Newman (New Zealand)