Waratahs 17
Highlanders 35

A triumph for tactical plotting and bravery. A triumph for big hearts and small egos. A triumph for mental fortitude, hard work and cohesion.

Pick any quality and the Highlanders showed it in Sydney tonight to make it an all New Zealand final.

For a team given virtually no chance before the season started, this really has turned into quite some fairytale. They outplayed the defending champions on their home ground and did it without too much trouble.

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Of course, it was tense and fraught and mostly tight until midway through the second half when Waisake Naholo did what he he has done all season and produced an impossible piece of magic to score a miracle try - his 12th of the season.

A few minutes later a Patrick Osborne charge was stopped only by an illegal swinging arm by Jacques Potgieter and the penalty try and resulting yellow card pretty much put the game on a plate for the Highlanders.

It was everything they deserved. They dominated the game in all the places they needed to and they were so clever in the way they played.

The Highlanders, obviously after some lengthy research, opted to ditch their natural counter-attacking game from the deep and instead kick high and chase.

It took a while to reconcile their option-taking with the style that had taken them to the playoffs but it was tactically astute.

The Waratahs didn't cope that well taking the ball in the air and the chasing game was good enough to ensure that Israel Folau was never really able to cut loose. He had a few half-probes where his power was obvious but nothing too damaging or inspiring.

The added bonus for the Highlanders was that the Waratahs' lineout fell apart and poking the ball deep into the corner became a valid option as the visitors were more often than not able to win it back.

And when the Waratahs were able to win their set-piece, Bernard Foley had his issues getting the ball away with his kicking. His rhythm was off and he couldn't find any distance or accuracy - which was kind of the story of the Waratahs.

The week off didn't do them any favours. They looked a little bit out of touch, unable to flow and connect the way they wanted and that lack of confidence was crucial. The Highlanders sensed it immediately and dominated the first 30 minutes in terms of territory and possession.

It kept the crowd quiet and it increased the tension and nervousness that was already affecting the Waratahs.

They couldn't get out of their territory without a struggle and their lack of a left-footed kicker was a killer. The Highlanders kept pushing them into the corner and the Waratahs couldn't find a way out.

Dominating territory and possession was all good and well but the question that would have been preying on the minds of the coaching staff was whether they were driving the scoreboard hard enough.

Part of their thinking was that the Waratahs' big pack would tire later in the game and the space would open up. That was their hope but there was no guarantee it would happen and, even if it did, the Highlanders had to be in touch on the scoreboard to take advantage.

No matter how hard the Highlanders pushed, they couldn't break free - until Naholo's moment of magic and then the penalty try. That was the clincher - that was the moment for which the entire Southern region has waited 16 years.

Waratahs 17 (R. Horne tries; B. Foley 4 pens) Highlanders 35 (A. Smith, R. Buckman, W. Naholo, penalty try, P. Osborne tries; L. Sopoaga 2 cons, pen, DG). Halftime 14-15.