Highlanders let victory slip away

Highlanders fullback Ben Smith offloads to first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga in the tackle of...
Highlanders fullback Ben Smith offloads to first five-eighth Lima Sopoaga in the tackle of Waratahs centre Kurtley Beale during their Super Rugby quarterfinal at Allianz Stadium in Sydney on Saturday night. Photo: Getty Images
This was one that definitely got away.

Actually, it had been caught,  dragged into the boat and the knives had been sharpened.

But somehow, the Waratahs came from the brink of elimination to finish ahead of the Highlanders, winning 30-23 in the Super Rugby quarterfinal in Sydney on Saturday night.


Well a lack of discipline, some wrong options and composure going missing at key moments cost the Highlanders.

Also, the Waratahs are not a bad team and have some genuine talent which was always going to come to the fore in this match.

The Highlanders’ first 40 minutes was probably their best half of the season as they led 23-6 at the break.

The defence was tight, there was accuracy in everything they did and the forwards were more energetic and effective at the breakdown than the home team. The visiting side scored a couple of nice tries through Rob Thompson and Waisake Naholo.

But it started to go off beam in the second half.

Coach Aaron Mauger knew the game was not over at halftime and stressed the need to keep the foot on the throat. But that simply did not happen.

"We just needed to hold the ball and put the pressure on them. But five times in the first minutes of the second half we got down there and gave the ball back to them. That wasn’t part of the plan," he said.

"We gave them the ball and opportunities to work themselves back into the game."

Just past the 50-minute mark, the Highlanders were attacking right on the line but a wide pass from halfback Aaron Smith was intercepted by giant Waratahs winger Taqele Naiyaravoro who tore off down field.

As the play moved on, Naholo put in two high tackles and was shown a yellow card for his efforts.

With Naholo off the park, the Waratahs scored three converted tries in just over six minutes and went from 23-6 down to 27-23 ahead.

"That was the turning point of the game. And it was a fair decision by the referee. You couldn’t fault it. They played some good footy then, to be fair. They put us under a bit of pressure and we got watching."

Bernard Foley scored two tries while Israel Folau scored one and was heavily involved, as was Kurtley Beale, as the Waratahs caught fire.

The Highlanders, though, were not out of it. The side had chances and replacement forward Shannon Frizell went very close to the tryline near the end. The Waratahs lost replacement prop Paddy Ryan with a yellow card with seven minutes left but the Highlanders could not take advantage.

There was just not quite the accuracy and the patience there and in the end the Highlanders came up short.

They also got on the wrong side of referee Angus Gardner in the second half and could not win the 50-50 battles.

Liam Squire worked hard for the Highlanders and prop Tyrel Lomax got through plenty of work. Lima Sopoaga showed some nice touches in his last game for the Highlanders while Tei Walden displayed how much progress he has made this year.


Super Rugby
The scores

Waratahs    30

Bernard Foley 2, Israel Folau tries; Foley 3 con, 3 pen

Highlanders    23

Waisake Naholo, Rob Thompson tries, Lima Sopoaga 3 pen, 2 con

Halftime: 23-6 Highlanders


Yep in some ways a good game. Great play too get out to such a big lead and some top drawer efforts by NSW to get in front. But if the Highlanders were good enough they should really have managed a try early in the 2nd half and also in the last 10. Unfortunately they were nt and that was the game.

Still an OK 2018 season but could easily have been better.