The Highlanders pounced on every little mistake made by the Waratahs to cruise to a comfortable 49-12 win at Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin in Super Rugby on Friday.
The match began in fairly innocuous fashion with lots of kicks exchanged between the two sides.
Neither side was really able to gain a territory advantage and it took a huge mistake from Will Miller to provide the game's first try.
The flanker completely dropped the ball under no pressure at all in the seventh minute trying to clean up loose play. This allowed Josh McKay to casually jog through, pick up the ball and run over the line to make it 5-0. Josh Ioane had no problem with the conversion.
Just three minutes later, the Highlanders were at it again, but this time in much less fortuitous circumstances.
Twihorangi Walden went digging for the ball in a ruck and turned it over beautifully. This allowed them to unleash Tevita Li down the wing and he showed great skill to beat his man and score in the corner. Another successful conversion took them to a 14-0 lead.
It all started to get a bit ugly for the visitors around the 20 minute mark as a seemingly never-ending spell of possession from the Highlanders, in which they went through 19 phases, ended with Tom Franklin bagging the hosts third try of the evening. Ioane's kicking boot remained hot and it was 21-0.
Four minutes later they had their bonus point. Franklin and Liam Coltman both tried to muscle their way over the line unsuccessfully before Waisake Naholo managed to break through an Adam Ashley-Cooper tackle to barge over the line. This was Ioane's easiest kick of the match so far and it was 28-0.
The Australians showed a bit of fight in the 28th minute when they managed to isolate Iaone at a breakdown to force a turnover.
Using the momentum the turnover created, they cycled the ball well, with an especially impressive final offload from Curtis Rona to send Alex Newsome in for their first try of the game. Mack Mason added the extras to bring the score to 28-7.
Their hard work was undone on the stroke of half time, though, as Teihorangi Walden went over for the Highlanders fifth try of the half.
Once again it was a defensive error that allowed the score. The center was not held in the tackle, so he was able to simple release the ball, stand up, pick it up again and bundle over for the try. Another successful Ioane conversion made it 42-7.
There was much less action in the second half as the Highlanders, already with a bonus point in hand, took their foot off the gas a bit to defend their lead.
After attacking for what felt like months, the Waratahs eventually found a breakthrough in the 72nd minute of the match and it wasn't even while they were on the front foot. After warding off a half-hearted attack from the Highlanders, Mason launched a decisive counter-attack to catch their hosts completely off-guard. He missed the conversion of his own try, the score was 42-12.
Then, just to rub salt into the wounds, the Highlanders hit back one more time. Literally seconds before the full time whistle, Thompson burst through a gap with a beautiful side-step and raced away to bag their seventh try of the match. Another conversion, this time from the boot of Elliot Dixon, made it finish 49-12 to the Highlanders.
Highlanders - Tries: McKay, Li, Franklin, Naholo, penalty try, Walden, Thompson. Conversion: Ioane (5), E. Dixon
Waratahs - Tries: Newsome, Mason. Conversion: Mason. Cards: Robertson (Yellow, 36')
Highlanders: 15 Josh McKay, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Teihorangi Walden, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (captain), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Josh Dickson, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Elliot Dixon.
Waratahs: 15 Alex Newsome, 14 Cam Clark, 13 Adam Ashley-Cooper, 12 Lalakai Foketi, 11 Curtis Rona, 10 Mack Mason, 9 Nick Phipps (captain), 8 Hugh Sinclair, 7 Will Miller, 6 Michael Wells, 5 Tom Staniforth, 4 Ned Hanigan, 3 Tom Robertson, 2 Damien Fitzpatrick, 1 Harry Johnson-Holmes.
Replacements: 16 Andrew Tuala, 17 Rory O’Connor, 18 Shambeckler Vui, 19 Ryan McCauley, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Jack Dempsey, 22 Jake Gordon, 23 Tautalatasi Tasi.
Referee: Mike Fraser
Assistant referees: Brendon Pickerill, James Munro
TMO: Glenn Newman