Highlanders set up NZ-derby Final

27 Jun 2015
Highlanders set up NZ-derby Final

The Highlanders will take on the Hurricanes in an all-New Zealand Super Rugby Final after they stunned the Waratahs 35-17 in Sydney on Saturday.

While being deserved winners, the game may well be remembered for a big call from referee Craig Joubert when the 'Tahs were 17-20 down.

That decision came on 57 minutes when Highlanders wing Patrick Osborne was stopped agonisingly close to the line by Jacques Potgieter's swinging arm, which meant a penalty try was given in combination with the South African official sending his countryman to the sin-bin. It was a big call.

However, it shouldn't take anything away from the New Zealanders' showing as they now travel to Wellington for what should be a thrilling final.

Their scorers were Aaron Smith, Richard Buckman, Waisake Naholo, that penalty try and Osborne, with the 'Tahs opening the try account through Rob Horne.

It was apparent that the 'Tahs were struggling to return to top gear after their week off as it was the Highlanders enjoying the better opening. Such was the sloppiness in the home side's game that a wild pass from scrum-half Nick Phipps put them under serious pressure early in the half.

The Highlanders took a deserved lead on five minutes when fly-half Lima Sopoaga landed a penalty after 'Tahs lock Dave Dennis did not roll away.

But smartly the Waratahs found their physical edge and reverted to their strengths in creating space for right wing Taqele Naiyaravoro before a great cross-kick from flyhalf Bernard Foley found wing Horne on the left sideline who finished well. Foley missed the conversion so it was 3-5.

The lead lasted eight minutes though in Sydney as Aaron Smith's red hot form continued when he intercepted Wycliff Palu's pass from the tail of the scrum to race over on the left wing. With Sopoaga off for a concussion test, full-back Ben Smith stepped up for the extras but was wayward.

Fortunately for the visitors, Sopoaga returned to the game on 23 minutes and was immediately into the thick of the drama with an attempted drop-goal that was unsuccessful. That was an example of how tight things were a contest and that a place in the final would go right down to the wire.

8-8 would become 8-11 to the Waratahs at the half-hour stage as the Highlanders went off their feet at ruck time, which allowed Foley to strike.

But back came the Highlanders three minutes later as inside centre Buckman capitalised on not being held in contact and promptly got up before getting to the line before Israel Folau could lay a hand on him. Sopoaga this time landed the conversion which made it 15-11 to the Kiwis.

Foley would respond on 37 minutes when Elliot Dixon was offside in defence but in truth the 'Tahs were lucky to be just one point off the away side at the break as greediness from a penalty in their own half backfired. They were pinged at the ruck but Sopoaga hit the post with his kick.

The second half began just as the first for the Waratahs as sloppiness almost cost them dear, with a breakout from Michael Hooper relieving the sustained pressure on their try-line. They did appear rattled though, with Phipps' decision to tap a kickable penalty resulting in zero points.

A few phases later they did manage to move back in front, with Aaron Smith diving off his feet at a ruck and Foley making it 17-15 to the hosts.

The Highlanders hit back though as their third try of the contest arrived in the 54th minute when brilliant work from wing Naholo saw him kick down the right touchline before grounding ahead of Phipps. Sopoaga again hit the upright so the lead was just three points.

Joubert would then take centre stage with his decision to award the Highlanders a penalty try for back-row Potgieter's adjudged swinging arm on Osborne half a metre from the try-line. To make matters worse for the 'Tahs at 27-17, the South African flanker was shown a yellow card.

The task proved too great for the Waratahs late on and with Sopoaga's 76th minute drop-goal followed up by the flyhalf finding Osborne for their fifth try, the result was secured as the Highlanders march on to Wellington.