The Highlanders produced a tactical masterclass to upset the NSW Waratahs 35-17 at Allianz Stadium on Saturday, booking a spot in next weekend’s Super Rugby final against the Hurricanes in Wellington.
Coach Jamie Joseph’s side produced a mixed bag of kicks, turning the bigger Waratahs around all night, as the visitors outscored the reigning champions five tries to one to secure an all-New Zealand final.
The Waratahs struggled to find their rhythm as the Highlanders consistently stole the Tahs’ lineout ball and controlled the tempo of the game with their tactical kicking.
The Waratahs were seemingly broken on 58 minutes when the Highlanders were awarded a penalty try with flanker Jacques Potgieter sin-binned for a high shot on winger Patrick Osborne, who looked set to score before he was clipped on the head.
Referee Craig Joubert sent the decision upstairs to the television match official, who took his time deliberating before the on-field ref took control of the situation after viewing several replays on the big screen.
The decision prompted plenty in the crowd of 32,632 to chant against the ref but the call, which made the score 27-17, looked a fair one by the South African whistleblower.
The Waratahs had gone 17-15 up early in the second half through Bernard Foley’s fourth penalty goal of the night before winger Waisake Naholo kicked for himself and won the race to score his 12th try of the season and make it 20-17 to the Highlanders.
The penalty try came five minutes later and the complexion of the game had completely changed.
A field-goal from five-eighth Lima Sopoaga five minutes from time and a late try from Osborne sealed a deserved victory for the visitors.
The Highlanders led 15-14 at halftime, outscoring the Waratahs two tries to one at the break.
The hosts were first to score through winger Rob Horne, who produced a brilliant one-handed put down while holding off Naholo after taking a Foley cross-field kick on 11 minutes.
The visitors hit back eight minutes later when halfback Aaron Smith intercepted a Wycliff Palu pass off the back of the scrum.
Inside centre Richard Buckman scored the Highlander’s second try of the first half when he broke through several defenders for a good solo five-pointer.