Pick'n Go
Joseph's double bluff kicks Waratahs to kerb
Sam Bruce
June 28, 2015
Waratahs 17-35 Highlanders (Australia only)

It was one of the great coaching performances of the season, maybe even the past few years of Super Rugby; Jamie Joseph's "double bluff" exposed the Waratahs' game plan - something few sides have been able to do in the past 18 months.

Joseph's Waratahs counterpart Michael Cheika - who now swaps sky blue for the green and gold of the Wallabies - NSW players and supporters alike can feel a little aggrieved at some of the decisions handed down with more than just a little doubt surrounding both the penalty try and the one scored by Richard Buckman.

But there is absolutely no doubt that the Highlanders were thoroughly deserving of their win; one set up late last week when Joseph fired a couple of barbs the Waratahs' way, quipping: "It's hard to carry big carcasses around the track, especially when you play at speed. I think if we are successful in moving the ball quickly and keeping the game at a reasonable tempo, then, like last week, guys are going to wilt at the end."

And wilt the Waratahs did. But it was not an outcome borne out of the Highlanders playing at "speed" nor did take until the final minutes; the visitors put the boot in and the Waratahs had no answer.

The Highlanders are through to the final for the first time since 1999 © Getty Images

It was clear from the outset exactly what Joseph had instructed his side to do as fly-half Lima Sopoaga dropped the ball deep into Waratahs' territory from the kick-off rather than opting for a far more contestable area back towards the 10-metre line. They immediately had field position as Nick Phipps' terrible clearing pass forced Israel Folau back behind the Waratahs' line, and would soon come away with the opening three points.

While the Waratahs hit back with the first try of the match through Rob Horne, the Highlanders didn't sway from their game plan and time after time, either kicked deep into Waratahs' territory or went high for powerhouse wingers Waisake Naholo and Patrick Osborne to contest.

When they went long, the Waratahs' were forced to kick poorly into touch. When they went high, Naholo and Osborne at least made a nuisance of themselves. Add to that a dysfunctional Waratahs lineout and it's clear to see why the Highlanders were happy to hand the ball back to their opponents. In fact, Sopoaga and half-back Aaron Smith combined for a total of 26 kicks - with a further six from full-back Ben Smith - whereas, in their win over the Chiefs last weekend, they opted for the boot on just 19 occasions. Some would call that kick-happy, but it was just kick-smart.

Jamie Joseph has done a brilliant job with the Highlanders this season © Getty Images

Joseph had clearly identified a flaw in the Waratahs' game pre-match, formulated a plan in which to exploit it, and then just required his players to execute. And execute they did. A few pre-match mind-games certainly didn't go astray either.

It was nothing short of a coaching masterclass, one Joseph has made a habit of with his happy bunch of Highlanders in Dunedin over the last two seasons. Saturday's victory over the Waratahs made it two from two against the defending champions this season while they were a perfect three from three against the 2013 and 2014 champions, the Chiefs. The only two games where they were significantly outclassed came when Joseph made the decision to fulfil the NZ Rugby-enforced rest weeks for all three of his All Blacks in the same two rounds. Their arrival in the decider makes that another shrewd decision.

The big question is whether Joseph has one more masterstroke up his sleeve as he seeks to take his bunch of misfits to the Super Rugby title. Few people are likely to give them a chance against the Hurricanes despite their superb form over the last few weeks and total dismantling of the defending champions in Sydney.

That won't worry Joseph and the Highlanders - that's just how they like it.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

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