Waratahs break trans-Tasman drought

Super Rugby
Beth Newman Profile
by Beth Newman in Japan

One-nil.

The counter has finally reset for Australian Super Rugby teams, with the Waratahs breaking a 40-game drought against New Zealand teams with a 41-12 win over the Highlanders.

It took 722 days, and came just nine shy of the two-year anniversary of their last win, a 2016 victory over the Chiefs.

In recent weeks, the Waratahs had emerged as the front runners to topple a New Zealand side and it proved to be so, though the Reds went ever so close just a night earlier in Wellington as well.

It wasn't as frenetic as the first half hour in Christchurch, nor as desperate of their clash with the Blues, but that mattered little with the W going NSW's way in the end, and the Waratahs claiming their biggest-ever win over their Otago opposition.

Sixty-three minutes with a one-man advantage certainly boosted the optimism of Aussie spectators, who have had their hopes dashed so many times in the past two seasons when the circuit breaker seemed to be on the cards.

Highlanders winger Tevita Nabura was sent off in the 17th minute, after he kicked Cam Clark straight in the face as he came down from collecting a high ball.


FOX SPORTS was quick on the replay and the crowd certainly didn’t let Brendon Pickerill refuse the option to refer, with Nabura shown a red card.

Three minutes later, halfback Aaron Smith was in the bin for a deliberate knock down, and the turn of fortune seemed like a sign that a change was in the offing.

NSW had taken a chance at the sticks in the seventh minute to put the home side in a lead they never lost, but it looked like the Highlanders were going to be the first to cross the line, before an Aaron Smith score was disallowed because of a forward pass.

A strong Israel Folau run put the Waratahs in attacking range and they worked it edge to edge, for Taqele Naiyaravoro to crash over the line and with the mammoth winger crashed over again with a two-man advantage, to open up a 15-point gap, that stayed until the break.

The Waratahs looked to have the perfect start in the second half, with Curtis Rona going over, but after a series of replays, the try was disallowed for an unclear grounding.

They didn’t need the TMO on the second attempt at the line, Israel Folau pulling in a long pass from Bernard Foley to score in the 42nd minute, opening up a 22-point advantage.

Highlanders flanker Elliot Dixon hit back for the Highlanders off the next opportunity, standing open on the right wing to collect a cross-field kick and break their duck.

Just as it looked like the Kiwis were getting their own back, the Waratahs pulled out a spectacular try of their own, with a four-on-one overlap used for a chain of passes, for Folau to score his second of the night.

Highlanders hooker Ash Dixon scored off a maul just two minutes later and another NSW disallowed try, with a Nick Phipps knock on over the line spotted after the score was initially awarded, kept the Kiwis well and truly in the game.

Israel Folau had two tries for the Waratahs. Photo: Getty ImagesLalakai Foketi eased the pressure valve, snapping up an outside pass from Foley to fall over the line in the 65th minute, and make the equation 24 points in 15 minutes for the Highlanders.

When Rona went over just three minutes later, the weight of doubt in fans’ mind were becoming just traces, and when the whistle finally blew, the cheers around Allianz were of relief and jubliance after such a long, long time.

The Waratahs' mission won't get any easier next week, with a trip across the ditch to take on the Chiefs.

Waratahs captain Michael Hooper admitted ending the streak brought about an element of relief.

"It was frustrating to hear that all the time (though) it was the last thing we were thinking about," he said to FOX SPORTS.

"We were thinking about what we've been incrementally doing each week, got a good result tonight."

RESULT

Waratahs 41

Tries: Naiyaravoro 2, Folau 2, Foketi, Rona

Cons: Foley 4

Pens: Foley

Highlanders 12

Tries: E. Dixon, A. Dixon

Cons: Sopoaga

Yellow Cards: A. Smith (20’)

Red Cards: Nabura (17’)