Waratahs make it three from three
February 27, 2009
Brett Sheehan celebrates after scoring the Waratahs' bonus point try
© Getty Images
The Waratahs maintained their unbeaten start to this year's Super 14 with a 34-16 bonus point victory over the Highlanders in Sydney.
A spirited performance from a young Highlanders side wasn't enough as the Waratahs powered to their third straight win of the season at the Sydney Football Stadium and stretched their winning streak at home to a franchise-record nine matches.
Replacement halfback Brett Sheehan darted over with two minutes remaining for the bonus point try to give the Waratahs 14 points from a possible 15 this season. But they had to do it harder than expected as the undermanned Highlanders stayed in the contest throughout, with plenty of possession in the final quarter before a lack of composure cost them against some solid home defence.
The result continued the Highlanders' tale of woe this season after narrow defeats to the Brumbies (31-33) and the Hurricanes (17-22), as they departed Sydney with no competition points to show for their toil. Both first five-eighths played a big part in an even contest.
The Waratahs' Kurtley Beale kicked five from five and had a starring role in two of his teams' tries, while the Highlanders' Daniel Bowden kicked four from four and was a handful on attack. Despite being without their injured All Blacks pair Jimmy Cowan and Jamie Mackintosh, the Highlanders boasted solid recent results against the Sydneysiders.
They snared one-point wins in their last two visits to the SFS in 2004 and 2007, while last year the Waratahs scraped home in a 15-12 slugfest in Dunedin. The young Highlanders -- with flanker Adam Thomson as their only current All Black -- started with plenty of spirit and had their heavily-favoured hosts on the back foot.
They kept the ball in hand and attacked strongly as the Waratahs were stretched. The Highlanders had few clear scoring chances but Bowden's accurate boot kept them in touch with three first half penalties.
But the Waratahs took their chances, with their record Super 14 tryscorer Lote Tuqiri pouncing on a 24th minute Beale grubber down the blindside. The match was evenly poised at 10-9 to the hosts before two killer tries either side of halftime.
The first was after the hooter when the Highlanders turned over the ball and the Waratahs attacked from deep in their own territory, Beale chipped and regathered and fullback Sam Norton-Knight burst clear to send flanker Ben Mowen galloping to the line.
Beale's three-from-three goalkicking in the first half, including two sideline conversions, gave the hosts a handy eight-point buffer at the break. Then two minutes after the restart, the Waratahs forwards muscled up and Wycliff Palu dived over from close range, with Beale's third conversion extending the lead to 15.
But the Highlanders wouldn't give up and struck back immediately for their first try, through stand-in captain Jason Shoemark after sustained pressure. Another Beale penalty made it 27-16 with 25 minutes left and the Highlanders kept attacking but handling errors let them down just as they looked likely.
Waratahs: Sam Norton-Knight, Lachie Turner, Rob Horne, Tom Carter, Lote Tuqiri, Kurtley Beale, Luke Burgess, Wycliff Palu, Phil Waugh (captain), Ben Mowen, Will Caldwell, Dean Mumm, Al Baxter, Adam Freier, Benn Robinson.
Replacements: Tatafu Polota-Nau, Dan Palmer, Chris Thomson, Scott Fava, Brett Sheehan, Daniel Halangahu, Timana Tahu.
Highlanders: Israel Dagg, Ben Smith, Jason Shoemark (captain), Johnny Leota, Fetu'u Vainikolo, Daniel Bowden, Sean Romans, Steven Setephano, Alando Soakai, Adam Thomson, Hayden Triggs, Josh Bekhuis, Clint Newland, David Hall, Chris King.
Replacements: Jason Rutledge, Anthony Perenise, George Naoupu, Tim Boys, Scott Cowan, Mathew Berquist, Kendrick Lynn.