Waratahs make the most of Highlanders red card

Waratahs openside flanker Michael Hooper brushes off a tackle as he powers to score his team's...
Waratahs openside flanker Michael Hooper brushes off a tackle as he powers to score his team's third try, while the Highlanders were down a man at Forsyth Barr Stadium this afternoon. Photo: Getty Images
It is hard to figure out what Sam Gilbert was trying to achieve as he flipped Michael Hooper’s legs in the air.

The ruck was secured, Aaron Smith was in the process of passing the ball and the Highlanders were looking to build pressure on the Waratahs’ defence.

The result was catastrophic.

As the TMO review showed Hooper land on his head, having been tipped on a late clean out, the decision was never going to be anything but a red card for the Highlanders first five.

It was a needless and completely avoidable act, not an unfortunate moment of bad timing, as many red cards are.

The score was 7-7 at that point.

Twenty minutes later, when Marty Banks emerged as Gilbert’s replacement, it was 19-7 – the Waratahs twice using their numbers advantage to cross for tries.

And that was effectively the game.

The Highlanders fought back to 19-15, but ultimately came up short 32-20 at Forsyth Barr Stadium last night, handling errors dogging the remainder of the performance.

 Daniel Lienert-Brown is hit in the tackle by Waratahs players. Photo: Getty Images
Daniel Lienert-Brown is hit in the tackle by Waratahs players. Photo: Getty Images
While they remain a strong chance of claiming Super Rugby Pacific’s final playoff spot – it was a spot that should have been secured last night.

Sickness had impacted the team.

Key players Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Jermaine Ainsley and Marino Mikaele-Tu’u were all among those impacted.

But this was a game the Highlanders still could have won.

Indeed they started well, Hugh Renton coming up with a breakdown turnover and Josh Dickson crashing over under the posts after two minutes.

A turnover off the ensuing kickoff by James Lentjes had the Highlanders on the attack again.

But they were unable to capitalise and the Waratahs came roaring back.

They built phases of their own, before No 8 Will Harris brushed off Scott Gregory to score under the posts.

The Highlanders had chances with two penalties midway through the half – turning down two shots at goal, only to blunder on the lineout drive.

At that point Gilbert’s red card left the Highlanders reeling and the Waratahs capitalised.

They used their numbers to score out wide shortly afterwards, through winger Mark Nawaqanitawase, before Hooper split through the middle to make it 19-7.

The Highlanders worked their way back into the game after halftime.

Marty Banks kicked a penalty as he emerged as the replacement once Gilbert’s 20 minutes were done.

Numbers turned the Highlanders way shortly after, when Waratahs prop Paddy Ryan was yellow carded for a head-on-head clean out on Josh Dickson.

The Highlanders made use of that advantage, as Gregory went over in the right-hand corner to make it 19-15.

Tane Edmed kicked two penalty goals to make it a 10-point margin, before he scored late to make the scoreline convincing.

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