Super Rugby: Highlanders smash Waratahs to keep their finals hopes alive

 stuff.co.nz  06/14/2019 09:43:00  2

The Highlanders have given themselves a chance of playing in the finals next week after hammering a poor Waratahs side 49-12 in Invercargill.

The comprehensive win gave the Highlanders the bonus-point win they were looking for and they now face a nervous weekend in front of TV screens and devices hoping that other results go their way.

Waisake Naholo congratulates Josh McKay after the fullback scored the opening try at Rugby Park, Invercargill, on Friday night.
Waisake Naholo congratulates Josh McKay after the fullback scored the opening try at Rugby Park, Invercargill, on Friday night.

There is now a good chance the Highlanders' fate won't be decided until the final game of the regular season, when the Bulls host the Lions on Sunday (3.15am NZ Time).

The men from Dunedin have failed to catch fire for most of the season but with All Blacks No 6 Liam Squire in rampaging form on Friday they destroyed the Waratahs by controlling territory and taking their chances when they came.  

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Regardless of whether the Highlanders make the finals the sight of Squire repeatedly running over the top of Waratahs backs will warm the heart of All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.

After a season dominated by injury setbacks, Squire looked full of power on attack and defence during his 48 minutes on the paddock.

Of slight concern, Squire was seen applying ice to his left shoulder after he was replaced but there didn't appear to be any structural damage. 

Highlanders No 6 Liam Squire pushes off Waratahs fullback Alex Newsome in Invercargill.
DIANNE MANSON/GETTY IMAGES
Highlanders No 6 Liam Squire pushes off Waratahs fullback Alex Newsome in Invercargill.

All Blacks wing Waisake Naholo also looked dangerous for the Highlanders  he has now scored four tries in his past three games since returning from injury. 

The Highlanders led 42-5 at halftime after five tries and a penalty try and the game was over as a contest.

Waisake Naholo makes a break against the Waratahs in Invercargill.
DIANNE MANSON/GETTY IMAGES
Waisake Naholo makes a break against the Waratahs in Invercargill.

With little to play for in the second 40 minutes the game petered out and turned into a scrappy affair.

In fact, the second half score was 7-7 with Rob Thompson striking late for the Highlanders in response to Waratahs' No 10 Mack Mason's try.

Southland loose forward Elliot Dixon converted Thompson's try in a nice touch as he says goodbye to New Zealand rugby.

Josh McKay scored the first try of the game after six minutes, getting some great reward for finding space in the Waratahs' backfield and then charging after his own kick.

Waratahs No 7 Will Miller made a mess of picking the ball up and McKay then pounced for a clever try.

Tevita Li grabbed a second just four minutes later, bursting past Cam Clark to finish in the corner after Naholo made the initial burst from a breakdown turnover.

Highlanders midfielder Teihorangi Walden scores a try in the first half.
Highlanders midfielder Teihorangi Walden scores a try in the first half.

Tom Franklin made it three tries in 18 minutes, diving over from close range after Squire trampled over Mason in a huge run up the middle. 

The one-way traffic continued in the 24th minute as Naholo surged over under the sticks through some weak Waratahs tackling to make it 28-0. 

However, the Waratahs hit back through fullback Alex Newsome, who finished off a slick counterattack after Ioane was turned over at the tackle contest.

Aaron Smith looks over the top of a scrum during the Highlanders' big win on Friday.
Aaron Smith looks over the top of a scrum during the Highlanders' big win on Friday.

The Highlanders needed to regain the ascendancy and they did so with five minutes left in the half, although it was tinged with controversy.

From a lineout drive close to the Waratahs' line, referee Mike Fraser found an offence by Waratahs prop Tom Robertson and promptly awarded a penalty try and sent him to the bin.

The home side made the most of their numerical advantage with another try just before halftime, with Tei Walden getting his name on the scoresheet. 

Highlanders 49 (Josh McKay, Tevita Li, Tom Franklin, Waisake Naholo, Teihorangi Walden, Rob Thompson tries, penalty try, Josh Ioane 5 cons, Elliot Dixon con) Waratahs 12 (Alex Newsome, Mack Mason tries, Mack Mason con). HT: 42-7

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