Fijian winger Taqele Naiyaravoro scored the last try of the match as the Waratahs secured top position in Super Rugby’s regular-season outgunning the Highlanders 44-16 at Allianz Stadium in Sydney on Sunday.
A second-half onslaught did the damage as fine tries for Israel Folau, Sekope Kepu, Nick Phipps, Jacques Potgieter and Naiyaravoro were added to Rob Horne’s score in the opening 40.
They will now go into next week’s trip to the Reds knowing that top spot is assured and Michael Cheika might subsequently choose to rotate a handful of his stars in order to keep them fresh.
Jamie Joseph’s side meanwhile have now left themselves a mountain to climb if they are to win the New Zealand conference, with only a bonus-point win at the Crusaders while winning by more than seven making them the top dog in their home country. However, they are assured a place in the play-offs following Saturday’s results.
The afternoon game was expected to lead to a healthy try and point return for the spectators but in the first-half that wasn’t the case, with Horne’s finish after good work from Kurtley Beale, Michael Hooper and Phipps the lone five-pointer.
Lima Sopoaga did reply for the Highlanders in the 22nd minute before Foley added his second penalty of the game to make it 11-3 just before the half-hour mark in Sydney.
The Highlanders then enjoyed something of a purple patch leading up to the break as two more Sopoaga penalties made it 11-9 to cap a good spell going into the dressing rooms.
But after the resumption things went pear-shaped for the visiting team as a fumble close to his own line from Ben Smith led to opposite number Folau powering over from close-range before Kepu was the next to cross on 50 minutes to make it 23-9 as the floodgates opened.
Phipps was the fourth scorer in the 63rd minute with a strong finish following Wylciff Palu’s offload and then Potgieter was set up by Kepu to make it 37-9 with nine minutes remaining.
Highlanders replacement Phil Burleigh did score an impressive individual effort after he collected his own chip to get the visitors on the try board but it was fitting that the Waratahs had the final say, Naiyaravoro adding the gloss with a simple run-in on the left wing.
Tries: Horne, Folau, Kepu, Phipps, Potgieter, Naiyaravoro
Con: Foley 4
Pen: Foley 2
Pen: Sopoaga 3
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Alofa Alofa, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Rob Horne, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Michael Hooper (capt), 6 Stephen Hoiles, 5 Kane Dougles, 4 Jacques Potgieter, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Tolu Latu, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Jeremy Tilse, 19 Will Skelton, 20 Pat McCutcheon, 21 Mitch Chapman, 22 Brendan McKibbin, 23 Taqele Naiyaravoro.
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Shane Christie, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Ma’afu Fia, 2 Brayden Mitchell, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Matias Diaz, 18 Chris King, 19 Josh Bekhuis, 20 Lee Allan, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Phil Burleigh.
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant Eeferees: Andrew Lees (Australia), Ed Martin (Australia)
TMO: George Ayoub (Australia)
* Planet Rugby