Crushing win leaves Highlanders waiting

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Lynn McConnell     14 Jun 2019     Getty Images

Now it is a case of waiting for the Highlanders. They can still finish seventh. For that to happen they need the Lions to miss out on any points against the Bulls and the Chiefs to secure a regulation win over the Rebels. If the Lions take any points, the Rebels win, or the Chiefs take a bonus point, the Highlanders cannot make the finals.

While the Highlanders management will have been delighted to finish with such a flourish the sight of flanker Liam Squire in such compelling form with the ball in hand and in making tackles would have been noted at a higher level.

Kicking to probe for position was employed by both sides through the early stages, but it was the failure to cover space that provided the first try of the night six minutes into the game. Highlanders fullback Josh McKay accepted a lobbed kick and then fired it back downfield into wide open space. Flanker Will Miller was the only player able to contest the kick, just out from the Waratahs line.

However, he fumbled the ball, lost control of it, and allowed the fast-following McKay to grab it and score.

Hardly had the restart been made than a breakdown saw second five-eighths Tei Walden charge through the ruck with the ball and link with wing Waisake Naholo on the right flank. He moved in then out to set up a ruck in the 22m area. The ball was moved wide with first five-eighths Josh Ioane flinging a long pass to left wing Tevita Li.

He beat opposite Cameron Clark's tackle and went over in the corner in the ninth minute.

Sterner defensive resistance saw the Waratahs force the Highlanders to 19 phases, built around a superb midfield bust by flanker Liam Squire. He ate up the ground before the Highlanders set about their work with the breakthrough coming when lock Tom Franklin took the ball from the base to drive over.

That was followed five minutes later in the 23rd minute when the Highlanders secured a lineout five metres out from the line with centurion hooker Liam Coltman and Franklin driving ahead before ruck ball gave Naholo a chance to score under the posts.

There was a comeback created by Waratahs second five-eighths Lalaki Foketi who secured a 27th minute turnover and when first five-eighths Mack Mason put a kick across to wing Curtis Rona, he was taken in a tackle, but got up to play the ball to supporting No.8 Michael Wells who was able to feed the ball to Newsome inside him.

But no sooner had the Waratahs mounted their revival than they conceded a penalty try when prop Tom Robertson infringed by coming into the side of a goalline bound maul to deny the Highlanders a try.

Just before the break, the second failure to keep a restart in the field of play resulted in a scrum penalty also being conceded. From the lineout another searing Squire run created good ball which saw the phases mount again before the ball was released for Smith to send one of his long passes for Walden to run on the tangent to pierce the midfield defence and cross for the sixth try of the half.

The second half became attritional and it took until the 71st minute before the halftime score changed, coming courtesy of some vintage running and support play from the Waratahs with Mason finishing it off.

There was time for centre Rob Thompson to cap a hard-working effort when scoring the last try of the game just ahead of the fulltime whistle.

Scorers: Highlanders 49 (Josh McKay, Tevita Li, Tom Franklin, Waisake Naholo, penalty try, Tei Walden, Rob Thompson tries; Josh Ioane 5 con; Elliot Dixon con) Waratahs 12 (Alex Newsome, Mack Mason tries; Mason con). HT: 42-7