Highlanders vs Waratahs: Five things we learned

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman

The Waratahs couldn't snap Australia's drought in New Zealand.

So, what are we talking about after the 44-28 defeat?

1. Close but no cigar

It was one of the more complete performances the Waratahs have put out this season but it simply wasn’t good enough to break a year-long trans-Tasman drought in Dunedin. They led at half-time but couldn’t find a score until the 70th minute after the break, when Jake Gordon crossed after replacing Nick Phipps, left to rue another missed opportunity. Missed tackles and bad discipline left the Waratahs clinging on to the faintest of Super Rugby hopes. They scored some spectacular tries, but a 50-minute effort will never be enough against a New Zealand team.

2. Discipline the devil

They didn’t concede eight straight in Dunedin, but the Waratahs were still punished by poor discipline against the Highlanders. It wasn’t all their own fault, with a costly yellow card for Dean Mumm coming out of a tip tackle on Elliot Dixon that seemed a lineball decision at best, with the Highlanders flanker not really going over the horizontal. The moral of the story, though, is not to give the referee a lineball situation like that. And though that was critical, their 12 penalties overall spelled out the same story.

3. Smith doesn’t miss a beat

Ben Smith was a standout for the Highlanders. Photo: Getty ImagesApparently Ben Smith has been out the last three matches with an ankle injury, though it sure didn’t look like that on Saturday night. The Highlanders co-captain looked like he’d never been injured in his career, starring for his side from the get go. The All Blacks regular finished with 18 carries and 124 run metres, beating six defenders along the way. Welcome back, Ben.

4. Phipps finding his groove

Nick Phipps has turned things around since losing his starting spot to Jake Gordon earlier this year. The Wallabies backup, who was praised by Michael Cheika for his upward trend in recent weeks, starred for the Waratahs in the opening half. He had a try assist and made six tackles in his stint, before appearing to come off injured early in the second half.The Waratahs and Wallabies will be hoping his early exit was not too serious, just as the 27-year-old has found his way again.

5. Pulse on life support

The Waratahs will be praying for the Jaguares to spring an upset on the Brumbies in Buenos Aires on Sunday morning, as they try to keep a grip on their finals chances. They sit four points behind the ACT side, with three rounds to go, and the Force are just two points behind them in third spot. Again in this bizarre season, the conference title looks set to go to the Stephen Bradbury of Super Rugby (no, not George Smith).