The Clan snuffed out the Waratahs’ season at Forsyth Barr Stadium but dropped their guard late in the game and failed to earn a crucial bonus point.
The Highlanders dominated possession at the beginning, but were unable to capitalise because of determined defence from the visitors. It wasn’t until the 13th minute that they opened their account with a 43-metre penalty goal from in front.
Only a minute later Highlander Buckman scored the first try in controversial circumstances . Firstly, the referee was in the way of a clearing pass from Phipps, and secondly, a replay seemed to show the try-scorer in front of the ricochet off the shins of a team mate when Foley grubbered through.
Israel Folau – scored a try before half-time from a standing start
But the Waratahs didn’t let the decision get to them, and only four minutes later, Israel Folau scored a superb try under the crossbar by wrong-footing defenders from a standing start, 22 metres out.
Despite a scrum penalty goal to The Clan, the Waratahs seemed to have an edge now. Just before the break a brilliant long pass from Phipps to barn-storming winger Naiyaravoro, let him score in the corner. The wide conversion from Foley was fine also and the Tahs were in the lead.
Halftime score: Highlanders 13 – Waratahs 14
Nick Phipps – threw a killer pass for Naiyaravoro to score
The second half was ‘now or never’ for the Waratahs and they were able to put the Highlanders under pressure for the first stanza, but at 46 minutes Dean Mumm was shown a yellow card for a reckless clean out.
Dean Mumm – got carded and the Highlanders scored two tries in his absence
The home side capitalised on the extra-man advantage immediately with a driving Liam Coltman try, and Tevita Li going over in the corner a few minutes later for The Clan to lead 23-14 ten minutes into the half.
The remainder of the game was entertaining: the Waratahs trying to stay in touch for a bonus point and/or victory, and the Highlanders trying to put the visitors away and notch up an important bonus point for themselves.
Thompson scored next for The Clan to put them out to a 16-point lead, but then Tahs’ scrummie, Jake Gordon, snuck through to score.
Tevita Li – scored early in the second half
The Highlanders were still ahead but at 30-21 they must have felt uneasy, as there were still ten minutes left.
However the home team put the result beyond doubt through two brilliant tries scored in three minutes by Dan Lienert-Brown and Lima Sopoaga.
The game was in the bag, and also the bonus point it seemed, but with four minutes left Gordon spoiled the party and ran through lazy ruck defenders near The Clan 22 to score untouched under the posts.
Final score: Highlanders 44 – Waratahs 28
Jake Gordon – his second try spoiled the Highlanders’ party for the bonus point
Despite controversies about the Buckman try and later with the Lienert-Brown try, in which hands seemed to propel the ball forward, the Highlanders were deserved winners over a determined and improved Waratahs’ side.
I just need to close with a bit of gloating and point out that my prediction was for a high scoring game with the Highlanders victorious by 15 points.
OK, I was one point out!
Ned Hanigan – could be in the frame for the Wallabies’ squad
The Game Changer
Dean Mumm’s yellow card in the 45th minute was a spoiler for the Waratahs. The Highlanders scored two tries in quick succession while he was sitting down and they got out to a lead that proved to be unassailable.
The G&GR MOTM
I’m not sure who the official MOTM but if it wasn’t Ben Smith I’d be surprised; so he’s mine. The fullback was impeccable in his return from a 3-week injury layoff to record 16 carries for 3 clean breaks and 6 defenders beaten.
Latu pushed his claims for the starting 2 jersey, and although it might be a bit early to debut Hanigan in gold, I’d be surprised if Cheika doesn’t want to at least keep him in the loop via the wider training squad.
Ben Smith – Man of the match
Score & Scorers
Highlanders – 44
Tries: R. Buckman (14′), L. Coltman (45′), T. Li (50′), R. Thompson (63′), D. Lienert-Brown (71), L. Sopoaga (73) .
Conversions: M. Banks (16′), L. Sopoaga (64′, 72′, 75′)
Penalties: M. Banks (13, 33).
Waratahs – 28
Tries: J. Gordon (60′, 76′), I. Folau (18′), T. Naiyaravoro (38′).
Conversions: B. Foley (19′, 40′, 70′, 77′)
Cards & Citings
D. Mumm – Dangerous play (46′)