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Highlanders thump winless Waratahs to move into second in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman

By AAP

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The NSW Waratahs are staring down the barrel of an historic and humiliating winless season after gifting the Highlanders a record-breaking 59-23 Super Rugby Trans-Tasman victory in Dunedin.

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In racking up their most points ever against NSW, the Highlanders piled on NINE tries to TWO at Forsyth Barr Stadium to extend the Waratahs’ unprecedented losing streak to 12 matches.

If they can’t beat the Chiefs next Saturday night in Sydney, the Waratahs will complete a season without a win for the first time in 35 years of professional rugby.

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NSW vice-captain Alex Newsome spoke pre-game of the emotional toll the Waratahs’ dismal campaign had already taken on the players and Saturday night’s soul-destroying display won’t have helped.

Even former Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, who guided the Waratahs to their only Super Rugby title in 2014, was left pulling what’s left of his hair out.

Somewhat miraculously, given their “touch rugby” defence – as New Zealand commentators put it – the Waratahs actually led at the half-hour mark.

But schoolboy errors cost them heavily as the Highlanders converted their 33-23 halftime lead into a commanding bonus-point triumph with four unanswered five-pointers after the break.

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Cheika said he felt for Waratahs co-coaches Chris Whitaker and Jason Gilmore and for young props Andrew Tuala and Darcy Breen, who held their own at scrum time only to be let down by teammates.

“Coach Whitaker must be going mad up there, honestly,” Cheika said, shaking his head in the Nine commentary box.

“Like, some of the stuff they do is awesome and some of the stuff they do you want to close your eyes.

“You saw the missed tackle count, they haven’t missed a lot of tackles but they’ve just made some terrible decisions and reads.

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“It’s almost like frustration, yeah, is a word that could resonate for everyone watching and definitely for the lads sitting up in the coaches’ box.”

The Waratahs’ biggest names were among the major culprits, with halfback and captain Jake Gordon and fullback and fellow Wallaby Jack Maddocks extremely poor, lazy even, in defence.

In another major worry for defence coach Gilmore, who has designs on the fulltime head-coaching role, tackling went out the window during an astonishing 66-point first half.

There were seven lead changes before the interval but, unfortunately for the Waratahs, it was they who trailed after conceding five of the seven tries.

Perhaps the biggest concern for Whitaker and Gilmore, apart from the meek defence, was the Tahs’ inability to exit their own half from kicks-offs.

The Waratahs let in all five of the Highlanders’ first-half tries immediately after posting points themselves, which they accrued either through lovely tries to Maddocks and winger Mark Nawaqanitawase or the super boot of five-eighth Will Harrison.

Harrison, who delivered a Steve-Larkin-like ball-in-front bullet pass for Maddocks’ try, was easily the Waratahs’ best performer and finished with 13 points from his perfect goalkicking display.

But it was all the Highlanders, whose victory lifted them above the Crusaders into second spot behind the Blues and on track for the June 19 tournament final.

Highlanders 59 (Tries to Michael Collins, Patelesio Tomkinson, Ethan de Groot (2), Ash Dixon, Jona Nareki, Kazuki Himeno and Teariki Ben-Nicholas; 7 conversions to Mitch Hunt)

Waratahs 23 (Tries to Jack Maddocks and Mark Nawaqanitawase; 2 conversions and 3 penalties to Will Harrison)

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Highlanders thump winless Waratahs to move into second in Super Rugby Trans-Tasman

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