Last-gasp Highlanders edge Waratahs
PRE-SEASON REPORT: A last-gasp penalty helped the Highlanders beat the Waratahs 50-47 in a thrilling pre-season encounter in Brookvale on Thursday.
The margin blew out to as much as 22 in the 37th minute, as a sharp Highlanders side stacked with All Blacks piled on four tries to one.
In a seesawing final five minutes, the lead changed more times than it had in the rest of the game, but a penalty to Fletcher Smith put the Kiwis in front when the dust settled.
It took less than two minutes for the Highlanders to get the early edge, with Liam Squire finishing a Naholo break on the right edge before the hulking wing set in motion an Aaron Smith try under the posts.
Waratahs wing Reece Robinson took the primary kicking duties, even with Bernard Foley in the starting side, and had no shortage of shots either, booting seven from nine.
The Waratahs came back with a bit more bite after the first interval, Harry Jones scoring in the 24th minute, after an attack sparked by captain Michael Hooper, a man who ignited most Waratahs' opportunities.
Their positivity didn't last long, with Highlanders fullback Ben Smith crossing in the 32nd minute to stretch out the margin.
It took until the shadows of half-time for the Waratahs to clinch another try, a pushover through Tolu Latu, after a Hooper break, chase and tackle put them in attacking territory.
The Highlanders made mass changes at the major break, while the Waratahs stuck with much of their starting line-up, a move that opened the game up, though the Highlanders struck first in the second half.
Taqele Naiyaravoro added the Waratahs' third and the first of his two for the day, as the Waratahs chanced their arm more.
Rookie centre Irae Simone nabbed a highlight just on the second drinks break, slipping through the Highlanders defence, before Naiyaravoro added another, making the gap just three points, before Robinson's penalty.
A Robinson regather and grubber ended in what looked like a forward pass, but former Sevens representative Con Foley finished it off before the Highlanders hit back through Rob Thompson.
Fletcher Smith took their only penalty shot of the day after full-time and slotted it with ease, to give the Highlanders the win.
Tries: Naiyaravoro 2, Jones, Latu, Simone, Foley
Cons: Robinson 4
Pens: Robinson 3
Tries: B Smith 2, A Smith, Squire, Naholo, Hammington, Thompson
Cons: Sopoaga 4, F Smith 2
Pen: F Smith
Waratahs: 15 Andrew Kellaway, 14 Reece Robinson, 13 Israel Folau, 12 Irae Simone, 11 Harry Jones, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Jake Gordon, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Jack Dempsey, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: Hugh Roach, Paddy Ryan, David Lolohea, Sam Needs, David McDuling, Nick Phipps, Matt Lucas, David Horwitz, Senio Toleafoa, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Ned Hanigan, Brad Wilkin, Maclean Jones, Con Foley, Bryce Hegarty, Andrew Deegan/Mack Mason.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 James Lentjes, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Jackson Hemopo, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: Aki Seiuli, Craig Millar, Siosuia Halanukonuka, Guy Millar, Adrian Smith, Josh Dickson, Alex Ainley, Elliot Dixon, Gareth Evans, Dillon Hunt, Kayne Hammington, Josh Renton, Fletcher Smith, Sio Tomkinson, Teihorangi Walden, Matt Faddes, Pat Osborne, Jason Emery.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Edward Martin (Australia), James Leckie (Australia)