A high stakes match on an ordinary night in Sydney saw the seventh-placed Waratahs versus the eighth-placed Highlanders. In a competition where the top six make the finals and with two weeks left to play, the stakes don’t get much higher in the regular season.
The first half started with the Tahs dominating territory thanks to a series of very poor clearing kicks from the Highlanders. After a period of sustained pressure Phil Waugh was in under the posts, but was called back for a forward pass. At the nine minute mark a trademark spout of Kurtley Beale magic had him step through and over the Otago defenders and put a grubber kick through for Tom Carter to score in the corner.
The Highlanders responded by setting up camp in the Tahs’ half for five minutes, eventually knocking it on to Kurtley who set up a candidate for try of the season, again stepping his way through the line and starting a series of offloads for Dave Dennis to score. Kurtley converted taking the score to 12–0.
The Highlanders pushed back deep into Tahs’ territory after the restart and won a run of penalties five metres out from the line. The Tahs managed to turn it over from a Highlanders’ scrum, and cleared out of their 22. In the next play a kamikaze tackle by Tatafu Polota-Nau forced a turnover and the Waratahs were out of their half.
The relief was short-lived however, with Adam Thomson continuing an impressive half and breaking the line to set up a movement that put the Highlanders back into the Waratahs’ 22. Shortly afterwards the Highlanders won advantage from a Palu tackle that was judged to be high, and soon afterwards crossed the line through Jason Rutledge. Replays showed Rutledge may have dropped the ball over the line, but the TMO disagreed and awarded the try. Tony Brown converted and it was 12–7 after 29 minutes.
From the restart, Halangahu’s tricky kick failed to cross the 10 metre line, setting up a scrum on halfway for the Highlanders. Massive pressure from the Tahs scrum forced a turnover that was unfortunately knocked on by Phil Waugh. A clever kick from the reset scrum had Kurtley under pressure five metres from the Waratahs’ line, with the Highlanders able to turn the ball over. Several phases pressured the Waratahs’ line before Alando Soakai was penalised for going off his feet.
Around 33 minutes in Berrick Barnes was subbed off with what looked like a recurrence of footballer;s migraine. The Tahs put together a good series of play, peeling off metres and again Kurtley proved difficult to stop. A deft inside ball from Daniel Halangahu to Tom Carter allowed him to barge through Ben Smith and score under the posts. The scoreline of 19–7 took us to half-time as a standing ovation from the home crowd took the fans into oranges.
The second half started out with spurts of torrential rain, but the Tahs continued to throw the ball around and the knock-ons followed. A clever kick had the Highlanders carry it over the goal-line and set up a five metre scrum. However, Al Baxter was penalised over a binding issue which released the pressure.
The conditions worsened and handling errors crept into both teams’ execution. The Highlanders were massive at the breakdown, and the Tahs continued to dominate set pieces. Kicking the ball out on the full was a worrying sign with the Tahs committing this twice in quick succession around the 55 minute mark.
The Highlanders started to put a lot of pressure on the Tahs’ line, and were very lucky to not get a yellow card for someone kneeing Dean Mumm in the head. The Highlanders continued to keep it tight and soon a stink broke out in the Tahs’ in-goal area. The Highlanders continue to win full arm penalties in the Tahs’ 22, and opted for a mix of line-outs and quick taps. A rolling mall at the 66 minute mark was driven into touch by the Tahs, but it was ruled that Chris Alcock had already stolen the ball and run it into touch.
From the next line-out the Highlanders spread it wide and aggressive defence form the Tahs pushed them back to the 22. Further aggressive defence had them back to the 10 metre line before Hugh Perret was adjudged to be coming in from the side, and the Highlanders set up another 5 metre line-out.
The Highlanders again secured their line-out ball and spread it wide. This time Al Baxter was a hometown hero, turning the ball over at the ruck. Kurtley kicked it to the shithouse and Piutau spilled the bomb over the sideline. Tom Carter was seen stumbling around in back play after the move.
So we move to a Waratahs’ line-out in the Highlanders’ half. Tatafu Polota-Nau hits the mark and Timani knocks it on this time to set up a Highlanders scrum with nine minutes left to play and the scoreboard unchanged in the second half. From the scrum they spread it wide and pass it to no one over the sideline.
The Waratahs win their lineout and keep it tight this time, with some impressive pick and drives seeing Al Baxter going very close to the line. Pressure builds and they spread it to Tom Carter who runs for the corner and scores his third of the night. Kurtey converts and it’s 26-7 with five minutes left to play.
From the next play Beale’s crossfield kick found the new man Josh Holmes who ran unopposed to the line to score the Tahs’ fifth try. Kurtley converted, taking the score to 33–7… which brings us to full time.
Moses’s man of the match: Kurtley Beale; notable mentions to Tom Carter and Tatafu Polota-Nau.
Official attendance is 13,474 — surely a new record low.