Sun 6 Jul 2014 | 07:52
Waratahs seal top spot
Sun 6 Jul 2014 | 07:52
Waratahs seal top spotSHARE
The Waratahs came alive in the second half against the Highlanders in Sydney on Sunday as they defeated the New Zealanders 44-16
The Highlanders held the table-topping Aussies for the whole of the first half with the Waratahs only managing a two point lead at the break.
It was a 5 try blitz that eventually destroyed the Highlanders as they had no answers to the intensity and physicality.
Fullback Israel Folau scored his 12th try of the season to clinch first place and a home semifinal in Super Rugby with a round to spare.
Folau ran off an inside pass from center Kurtley Beale to score in the 42nd minute, boosting the Waratahs' confidence after they had taken a brittle 11-9 lead to halftime.
Winger Rob Horne, prop Sekope Kepu, scrumhalf Nick Phipps, lock Jacques Potgeiter and replacement Taqele Naiyaravoro also scored tries as the Waratahs claimed a bonus point, making their place atop the table unassailable with a franchise-record sixth-straight win.
The win gives the Waratahs a break in the first round of the playoffs, carrying them directly to the semifinals, where they will host the lowest-ranked winner in week two of the playoffs.
The Waratahs were outstanding at set pieces and Phipps was the clever architect of much of their attacking play, directing the attack where the defense was weakest. Flyhalf Bernard Foley kicked 14 points – four conversions and two penalties – to surpass Peter Hewat's season record for the Waratahs of 184 points in 2006.
But the Waratahs' win was once again founded on a team performance and the seamless interaction of backs – notably the inside trio of Phipps, Foley and Kurtley Beale – and forwards, among whom Kepu, Potgeiter and Wycliff Palu were outstanding.
Hooper said the Waratahs had been so closely concentrating on each match, they weren't aware until Saturday that they could clinch first place with a win.
They did so by scoring their most-ever points in a match against the Highlanders, beating the 41 they posted in 2005.
The Waratahs' first try – their only try of the first half – was also their best, sprawling more than 90 meters.
Phipps set the move in motion, seeing an attacking chance close to his goalline and choosing to attack the thinnest part of the Highlanders' line.
Many players handled before Hooper provided the last pass for wing Horne.
The Highlanders had little ball but managed to stay in touch at halftime with three Lima Sopoaga penalties before the floodgates opened in the second half.
The Waratahs ran in five tries after halftime as Foley took the ball to the gain line and found willing runners, both backs and forwards.
The Highlanders will go into next weekend's last regular season round still in fourth place but now needing to beat the Crusaders to firm their chances of reaching the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.
Man of the Match: Many of the Waratahs put their hands up, Phipps and Foley linked up well as did Beale and Folau, but our award goes to the big tight head prop Sekope Kepu for his hard work and energy as well as his try and brilliant off load for Potgieters try.
For the Waratahs:
Tries: Horne, Folau, Kepu, Phipps, Potgieter, Naiyaravoro.
Cons: Foley 4
Pens: Foley 2
For the Highlanders:
Pens: Sopoaga 3
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Stephen Hoiles, 5 Kane Douglas, 4 Jacques Potgieter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: Tolu Latu, Jeremy Tilse, Paddy Ryan, Will Skelton, Mitch Chapman, Pat McCutcheon, Brendan McKibbin, Jono Lance, Taqele Naiyaravoro, Cam Crawford.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Chris King, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Lee Allan, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Phil Burleigh.
Referee: Steve Walsh
Assistant referees: Andrew Lees, Ed Martin
TMO: George Ayoub