Waratahs put Highlanders to sword
July 6, 2014
Israel Folau scored his 12th try of the season
© Getty Images
New South Wales Waratahs have locked up top spot on the Super Rugby ladder, and home-field advantage through the finals, with a dominant bonus-point victory over the Highlanders at ANZ Stadium in Sydney on Sunday.
The Waratahs produced a precise and powerful performance in the second half, displaying all the hallmarks of prospective champions with Kurtley Beale influential at second five-eighth behind a rampaging pack, scoring tries through talismanic fullback Israel Folau, prop Sekope Kepu livewire scrum-half Nick Phipps, powerful lock Jacques Potgieter and rookie winger Taqele Naiyaravoro as they claimed a franchise-record sixth consecutive victory.
Waratahs 44-16 Highlanders (Australia only)
Folau iced a first-phase attack from a scrum after a rare error from Ben Smith, accepting a short ball back inside from Beale to power over the line, and the playmaker was involved in Kepu's try before Alofa Alofa offloaded out of the back of the hand to the rampaging prop. Phipps then crossed in the right corner after a powerful drive from Wycliff Palu at the back of an attacking scrum, and Potgieter strolled over untouched after a length-of-the-field break from inside the Tahs' 22, this time from Alofa. Naiyaravoro iced the Waratahs' performance, and sent to crowd home in delirious raptures, when he powered through Hayden Parker to score his maiden Super Rugby try just before full-time.
If the Waratahs claimed their record victory over the Highlanders, the visitors still in contention for the finals despite their shellacking, the romp did not seem likely when the hosts led by just two points at half-time, after Rob Horne had touched down a length-of-the-field break from a scrum inside their own 22; the Highlanders had them going backwards at the set-piece, but Palu produced a trademark bust from the back and the Tahs took the ball downfield through Beale, Adam Ashley-Cooper, Folau and Stephen Hoiles before a lovely ball from Michael Hooper put Horne into space to stroll over the line.
Rob Horne scored the first of the Waratahs' six tries © Getty Images
New South Wales Waratahs' Taqele Naiyaravoro ran through Hayden Parker to score his first Super Rugby try © Getty Images
That the Waratahs ran away from their opponents in the second half was due as much to their defence as their precise attack and potent counters, their trademark efforts without the ball restricting the Highlanders to bit-part roles - with the visitors' star fullback, Ben Smith, sighted only once with ball in hand in a dangerous position. Phil Burleigh scored the Highlanders' only try of the game inside the final 10 minutes, from a turnover, when he chipped over the top and chased to touch down for his second score of the season.
Waratahs captain Hooper lauded his team's all-round performance, saying "we spoke before the game that we wanted it to be hard to choose a man of the match ... and everyone did their job".
"Six tries to one," he said, "can't complain. We spoke at half-time that our forwards needed to step up, and they did a good job: tough carries, tough defence, and that's what's going to be our game going into the finals."
Hooper said the Waratahs weren't looking at the finals, however, saying the play-offs were "a long way away".
"The Reds will be solid next week" in the final round of the home-and-away season "and we've got to keep momentum going into the finals," he said.
Cheika warns Tahs of finals furnace (video available in Australia only)%]
Cheika was pleased with the response to his message at half-time, saying: "I like the way we played in the second half. We got caught up with a bit of Sunday footy in the first half - throwing it around a bit - but in the second half we knuckled down to be a bit more physical with the ball."
Cheika said, however, that his players would have to increase their mental intensity through the coming final campaign. "Finals football is mental, you have to have your game ready but also have the mental part right ... it's turned up about 10 notches and you have to be ready for that. There are teams that are going to be coming to the finals with a lot more experience of finals than us ... we have to keep playing our footy and keep enjoying ourselves and see what happens."
Highlanders co-captain Nasi Manu said the visitors "lacked execution ... but we've still got a chance of the play-offs and we've got a game against the Crusaders next week".
New South Wales Waratahs' Jacques Potgieter celebrates scoring a try © Getty Images
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd