Rugby: Highlanders made to wait

By Kris Shannon

Rob Horne of the Waratahs scores a try during the round 18 Super Rugby match between the Waratahs and the Highlanders at Allianz Stadium. Photo / Getty Images.
Rob Horne of the Waratahs scores a try during the round 18 Super Rugby match between the Waratahs and the Highlanders at Allianz Stadium. Photo / Getty Images.

Waratahs 44
Highlanders 16

The Highlanders will have to wait another week to seal their playoff fate after the Waratahs locked up Super Rugby's top spot in style tonight.

Aside from a brief period of pressure before the break, the Highlanders were handled easily by a team that, having clinched home advantage throughout the finals, must be considered favourites for the title.

The Waratahs are unbeaten at home this season and, judging on tonight's evidence, Allianz Stadium will be a formidable fortress for any travelling side in the coming weeks.

Their six tries gave the Waratahs a competition-leading 53 on the season while their 44 points moved them above the Hurricanes as Super Rugby's most prolific side.

It all proved far too much for the Highlanders, who failed to get going with ball in hand and were helpless in the face of unrelenting attack from the home side.

The southern side could still retain their place inside the top six even if they emerge with nothing from next week's finale against the Crusaders, although a point would bring certainty.

That kind of assurance never looked like arriving tonight, with the Waratahs full on running from the outset, readily finding holes in the Highlanders' defence and linking well whenever they spread the ball.

Such was their dominance in the opening quarter, Rob Horne's opening try was the least the deserved for the extent to which they had stretched the visitors so early in the match.

Compounding matters for the Highlanders, Aaron Smith was sent to the sin bin during the scoring move after deliberately knocking down the ball in a vain attempt to halt the home side's interminable progress.

And the try did nothing to release the pressure on the Highlanders, with the Waratahs quickly picking up where they left off, slinging the ball through the backs and running smart lines to repeatedly puncture the advantage line.

The roles were briefly reversed as the teams neared the break and the Highlanders finally found a steady period of possession but, with the opposition missing few tackles, the Highlanders were made to settle for Lima Sopoaga's three penalties.

They left it a two-point game at the half but any hopes the Highlanders had of building on their momentum were quashed when an uncharacteristic error from Ben Smith allowed Israel Folau to boost that margin with his 12th try of the season.

Sekope Kepu soon scored his side's third, almost from nowhere, and that kind of clinical edge was in contrast to the Kiwi side, who struggled for much of the second half to bring their explosive back three into the game.

The first time Smith managed to find some space, his combination with Richard Buckman provided one of the Highlanders' only highlights in the second half, but it ended in disappointment when the fullback was forced out in the corner by Kurtley Beale.

That chance probably represented the only opportunity the Highlanders had to climb back into the contest and, before long, a trio of late tries sealed top spot for the Waratahs.

Waratahs 44 (Horne, Folau, Kepu, Phipps, Potgieter, Naiyaravoro tries; Foley 2 pens, 3 cons)

Highlanders 16 (Burleigh try; Sopoaga 3 pens, Parker con)
HT: 11-9

- APNZ

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