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By Waratahs Rugby Media Unit
NSW Waratahs 19 – 16 Highlanders
Hunter Stadium, Newcastle
The Waratahs will head into next week’s showdown with the Western Force with two trial wins from three matches after last night defeating the Highlanders in a hard fought 19-16 win at Newcastle’s Hunter Stadium.
NSW coach Michael Cheika described it as a good hit-out. “It was exactly what we needed, hard at the breakdown, there was some good and bad but, all in all, I’m happy with the physicality and attention to detail at the ruck.”
Highlights of the match can be seen on TahTV: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXqMcXuu2u4.
Running with the breeze in the first half, the Highlanders kicked off. It was a scrappy start with the two teams swapping penalties inside the first two minutes.
The Tahs struggled to get out of their own half early on and another penalty saw the visitors open the scoring, flyhalf Lima Sopoaga on target to lead 3-0.
It took the Waratahs nine minutes to finally find some rhythm and they looked like charging over until ball security let them down.
A rib-rattling tackle from centre Rob Horne produced turnover and put the Waratahs on the attack inside the opposition’s 40 but handling cost them again.
Fullback Israel Folau came close to breaking the line but it was winger Peter Betham who crossed for the Tahs’ first points.
It started from a scrum 15 metres out, two rucks and slick hands by the backline put Betham into space 10 metres out and from there he was unstoppable.
With a boost to their confidence, NSW lifted and this time it was the other winger Alofa Alofa’s turn to impress the coach. Showing his dazzling footwork, he beat close to five players, taking the ball 40 metres downfield before off-loading and it was only great defence by the Highlanders that saved another five-pointer.
“For the second week in a row, he’s delivered,” enthused Cheika.
The Highlanders regained the lead with another penalty from the boot of Sopoaga but their advantage was short-lived.
The Waratahs regained possession from the restart, taking the ball inside the opposition’s 22 and this time NSW controlled the ensuing rucks and clever ball play down the short side gave the Tahs a two man overlap. Kurtley Beale hit flanker Michael Hooper with the perfect pass for the flanker to dot down.
Scrumhalf Brendan McKibbin’s conversion had the Waratahs leading 12-6 with seven minutes of the first half remaining.
But the Highlander weren’t about to put up the white flag. All Black Aaron Smith poached a ball from the Waratahs’ side of the ruck to send Hayden Parker on a 30 metre dash to score under the posts. The conversion gave the Highlanders a one-point lead 13-12.
Beale almost snatched the lead back in the final minute of the first half but his pass went astray five metres from Otago’s line, for the Highlanders to lead by the barest of margins at half-time.
The visitors had the better of the second half’s opening stanza, pressuring the Tahs into a number of errors. It might have been just a trial but the teams were playing for keeps and to prove it, big Will Skelton had a minor scuffle with the opposition but it didn’t take the shine off his performance.
It took the Waratahs close to 10 minutes to get their act together in the second 40 and when they did Cam Crawford, returning from shoulder surgery, was unlucky not to give NSW the lead when he was bundled into touch along with the corner post.
“He’ll definitely play a lot of football this year, he’s got to learn to play for 80 minutes,” said the coach.
Otago outside centre Malakai Fekitoa opened the Waratahs up down the right side, putting on the gas for a 50 metre dash before the defence collared his support, 20 metres from the line.
NSW regained the lead midway through the second half when Bernard Foley latching on to a Beale pass to storm over. The flyhalf then converted his own try to give the Waratahs the lead 19-13.
With 11 minutes remaining, Ben Smith booted a penalty to leave the Highlanders just three points adrift.
It was Tahs turn to dig in and they did, defending their goal line as though their life depended on it, to run out winners 19-16.
Despite the win, Cheika shared his disappointment. “We broke the line at least 10 times but failed to turn those opportunities into points.”
On a positive, the only concern going was Jonno Lance, who injured his ribs in the warm up and didn’t play.
The NSW Waratahs will kick off their Super Rugby campaign next Sunday when they host the Force at Allianz Stadium, kick off 4.05pm. Tickets for the match are priced from $20 for adults and are available now from waratahs.com.au. Children aged 12 and under can now enjoy free access to all NSW home matches thanks to our new Free Junior Season Pass available now from futuretahs.com.au.
NSW Waratahs 19 (tries: Betham, Hooper, Foley; cons: Foley, McKibbin) def Highlanders 16 (tries: Parker; cons: Sopoaga, pens: Sopoaga 2, B Smith)
NSW Waratahs: 1. Benn Robinson (Eastwood), 2. Tatafu Polota Nau (Parramatta), 3. Sekope Kepu (Randwick), 4. Will Skelton (Sydney University), 5. Kane Douglas (Southern Districts), 6. Dave Dennis (captain, Sydney University), 7. Michael Hooper (Manly), 8. Wycliff Palu (Manly), 9. Matt Lucas (Manly), 10. Bernard Foley (Sydney University), 11. Peter Betham (Sydney University), 12. Rob Horne (Southern Districts), 13. Adam Ashley-Cooper (Northern Suburbs), 14. Alofa Alofa (West Harbour), 15. Israel Folau (Sydney University)
Replacements: 16. Tola Latu (Sydney University), 17. Paddy Ryan (Sydney University), 18. Jacques Potgieter (TBC), 19. Stephen Hoiles (Randwick), 20. Pat McCutcheon (Sydney University), 21 Brendan McKibbin (Eastern Suburbs), 22. Nick Phipps (Sydney University), 23. Kurtley Beale (Randwick), 24. Jonno Lance (Easter Suburbs), 25. Ben Volavola (Southern Districts), 26. Cam Crawford (Northern Suburbs)
Highlanders: 1. Kane Hames, 2. Ged Robinson, 3. Chris King, 4. Jarrad Hoeata, 5. Josh Bekhuis, 6. Gareth Evans, 7. John Hardie, 8. Shane Christie, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Lima Sopoaga, 11. Kurt Baker, 12. Shaun Treeby, 13. Malakai Fekitoa, 14. Patrick Osborne, 15. Ben Smith (c),
Replacements: Brayden Mitchell, Matias Diaz, Craig Millar, Joe Wheeler, Tom Franklin, TJ Ioane, Lee Allan, Frae Wilson, Hayden Parker, Phil Burleigh, Winston Stanley and Richard Buckman.
Half-time: NSW Waratahs 12 - Highlanders 13
Referee: Angus Gardner
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Six teams have made it through to this year's 2016 Shute Shield Finals series with Sydney University, Eastwood, Southern Districts, Randwick, Northern Suburbs and Warringah to go head to head this weekend.