The NSW Waratahs have somehow claimed a late 21-20 win over the Highlanders in a tense encounter in Sydney.
It was far from their best but the Waratahs managed to find the deciding blow with just two minutes remaining via Mahe Vailanu
The hosts started fast and held a 14-6 lead heading into the break.
Aaron Smith inspired a second-half comeback for the Highlanders, scoring to give them the lead with 20 minutes to go.
The Waratahs continued to will themselves despite a very clunky attacking performance, eventually getting over the line through the replacement hooker.
The first quarter set the tempo for the contest as defence dominated proceedings.
Langi Gleeson shrugged off any concerns around his calf with a bursting run inside the first three minutes. He would make a major impact before being replaced at the break as they manage his return.
The Highlanders then looked to grind the hosts down on their line, only for captain Jake Gordon to emerge as the hero at breakdown time.
This allowed the Waratahs to march down the field before Izaia Perese ignited the Sydney crowd up, holding his body weight before powering through the defensive line for the opener.
With points at a premium, the visitors took the opportunity to go up by three to reduce the margin.
Having seen his captain get the breakdown turnover, Michael Hooper proved it was ‘Freaky Friday’ with a perfect kick from the base of the ruck for a 50/22.
This presented the Waratahs with one last chance to strike, allowing Lalakai Foketi to dive over for a 14-6 lead at the break.
As the hosts looked to extend their lead, their handling constantly let them down at crucial moments of the game, allowing the Highlanders to build pressure off the back of their scrum.
Their imposing pack wore down the Waratahs and Hugh Renton was the benefactor at the back of the maul.
Returning All Black Aaron Smith then proved his class with a pair of world-class plays.
He gathered up the loose ball and nailed the 50/22, followed it up with a perfectly timed snipe to give the Highlanders the lead.
To further the Waratahs' woes, Lalakai Foketi was sent for ten for a dangerous tip tackle in the lead-up.
Down a man, the hosts’ attack kept faltering as their defence kept them in the contest.
A charge down from player of the match Jake Gordon helped turn the tide, camping them inside their 22.
Dylan Pietsch’s break with seven minutes to go put the visitors under further pressure, leading to the yellow card to Pari Pari Parkinson.
As the forwards rolled inch by inch to the try-line, Mahe Vailanu proved the hero, sneaking over with 90 seconds to go.
Ben Donaldson made no mistake with the kick, allowing the hosts to guts their way to victory and into the top eight.
TRIES: Perese, Foketi, Vaianu
CONS: Donaldson 3/3
PENS: Donaldson 0/1
TRIES: Renton, Smith
CONS: Gilbert 2/2
PENS: Gilbert 2/2
NSW WARATAHS v HIGHLANDERS TEAMS
WARATAHS (1-15): Te Tera Faulkner, Dave Porecki, Harry Johnson-Holmes, Jed Holloway, Hugh Sinclair, Taleni Seu, Michael Hooper, Langi Gleeson, Jake Gordon (c), Ben Donaldson, Dylan Pietsch, Lalakai Foketi, Izaia Perese, Mark Nawaqanitawase, Max Jorgensen
RESERVES: Mahe Vailanu, Nephi Leatigaga, Daniel Botha, Will Harris, Charlie Gamble, Harrison Goddard, Joey Walton, Mosese Tuipulotu
HIGHLANDERS (1-15): Ethan de Groot, Andrew Makalio, Jermaine Ainsley, Fabian Holland, Will Tucker, Shannon Frizell, Sean Withy, Hugh Renton, Aaron Smith (c), Mitch Hunt, Scott Gregory, Sam Gilbert, Fetuli Paea, Jonah Lowe, Connor Garden-Bachop
RESERVES: Rhys Marshall, Daniel Lienert-Brown, Saula Ma'u, Pari Pari Parkinson, Marino Mikaele-Tu'u, Folau Fakatava, Thomas Umaga-Jensen, Jona Nareki
Referee: Damon Murphy
Assistant Referees: Jordan Way, Matt Kellahan