The Waratahs hosted Highlanders at Allianz in Sydney, the home side looking to break a nine game losing streak against New Zealand opposition. It was just shy of two years since the Waratahs last beat a side from across the Tasman when they downed the Chiefs in Sydney, and they were coming off a couple of near losses against the Blues and Crusaders.
As it turned out, the Tahs ran on to Allianz ready to play and came away with an emphatic 41-12 victory, showing they are the real deal when they play what’s in front of them, to go six points clear on the Australian conference ladder.
The Waratahs had the ascendency from the opening whistle, with a steal from the first lineout and a resultant backline charge upfield to deep inside the Highlanders territory. A few minutes and another steal later, Foley put the home side in front with a penalty goal. Soon after, a fumble by Sopoaga from a Beale kick gave the Warathas a scoring opportunity, an opportunity they fully capitalised on with Naiyarovoro crashing over in the corner.
In the 19th minute ‘Highlanders winger Tevita Nebura went up for a high ball and was red carded for what appeared to be a deliberate kick to the face of Cam Clark on the way down. Things only got worse for the visitors shortly after when Aaron Smith got 10 minutes on the pine for a deliberate knockdown.
Although the Waratahs did benefit from the two man advantage with another Naiyaravoro try – his fourth double this season – it could be argued that they didn’t really capitalise on this advantage, through some poor decision making and fundamental errors, and with Smith back on the field the half time score was 15-0 to the ‘Tahs.
The Waratahs returned to the field after the break looking supremely confident and were able to score quickly with an overlap to an in-form Israel Folau. The Highlanders scored almost immediately through Elliot Dixon and the conversion saw the ‘Tahs holding on to a 22-7 lead. Folau was next to score again, the beneficiary of some slick ball handling in what will go down as one of the best tries by the Waratahs this season. Again, however, the Highlanders responded almost immediately with a try of their own to Ash Dixon. 29-12.
The game was then quickly put beyond any doubt with a try to Lalaki Foketi and then Curtis Rona avenging an earlier disallowed try decision. The 41-12 scoreline was then held on to by the home side for the last 10 minutes of the game.
They have been indifferent since beating the Reds in Round 9, but their performances over the past two weeks have shown that they have the capability to take on the top sides in the competition and be genuine contenders at the pointy end of the season.
Although they are still well in finals contention, this could come into serious jeopardy as they have to play each of the three NZ sides above them on the ladder again. They are a well drilled side but don’t appear to have the same level of nous and discipline as the other Kiwi sides.
The Game Changer
The red carding of Nebura and subsequent yellow card of Smith helped the ‘Tahs to go to the break with a handy lead and with only 14 men in the second half it was always going to be difficult for the visitors to run down an already ascendant Waratahs side.
The G&GR MOTM
I’m going to give this to Foley who directed the play superbly, had 11 carries for 4 clean breaks and 5 defenders beaten and a total of 99 run metres. However a huge honorary mention needs to go to Tom Robertson who had an immense game both in the set piece and the loose play.
Outside the current Wallabies in the side who all had solid games, Curtis Rona continues to impress and has clearly been the best 13 of the Australian sides this season so far. Michael Wells also continues to show how much he has grown since last year and could easily be a wider squad inclusion.
Crowd: Not known.
Score & Scorers
Tries: Naiyaravoro (2), Folau (2), Foketi, Rona
Conversions: Foley (4)
Penalties: Foley (1)
Tries: E. Dixon, A. Dixon
Conversions: Sopoaga (1)
Red & Citing – Nebura – dangerous play
Yellow – A Smith – deliberate knockdown