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Waratahs break Super Dunedin hoodoo with win over Highlanders

By AAP
(Photo by Joe Allison/Getty Images)

The NSW Waratahs have shown they won’t just be making up the numbers in the Super Rugby Pacific finals with a rousing 32-20 away win over the Highlanders.

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Ignoring a horror record in Dunedin which dates back 14 years and chasing their first win in New Zealand since 2015, the Waratahs showed they are a different beast in 2022 to book a crucial win on Sunday.

The victory took the Waratahs (8-5) ahead of the Queensland Reds and into sixth on the ladder.

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They face a clash with the ladder-leading Blues back in Sydney on Saturday as the last round determines the top eight finals.

The Highlanders couldn’t have started better with lock Josh Dickson barging across the line in the third minute after an early turnover.

NSW hit back eight minutes later when No.8 Will Harris showed some deft footwork to plant the ball between the sticks for a 7-7 scoreline.

The game took a turn in the 29th minute when Highlanders five-eighth Sam Gilbert was sent off for an ugly lifting tackle in which Waratahs flanker Michael Hooper was up-ended.

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The Wallabies captain was making his return to play from concussion but escaped unscathed.

The visitors immediately used their numerical advantage with a long, floating pass finding winger Mark Nawaqanitawase to score.

Then Hooper showed his pace to dart from the back of a ruck, running 20 metres to score and give his team a commanding 19-7 halftime lead.

The Waratahs lost prop Paddy Ryan to a yellow card early in the second half for a head knock as he attempted to clean out.

With Waratahs fullback Ben Donaldson spilling an Aaron Smith kick, the Highlanders pounced on the loose ball and used the extra space to put centre Scott Gregory over in the corner.

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After a previous penalty strike the margin was just four points with the home side on the march.

But the Waratahs refused to wilt under pressure and five-eighth Tane Edmed kept the scoreboard ticking over with two penalties.

Playing his first game since his return from Japan, forward Ned Hanigan shrugged off the defence and then off-loaded to Edmed for the Waratahs’ fourth try.

NSW attempted to chase another try after regulation time to secure a bonus point, but turned the ball over for Liam Coombes-Fabling to have the final say for the Highlanders.

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Flankly 4 hours ago
Resilient Irish will test Springboks despite provincial setbacks

The Bok kryptonite is complacency. How did they lose to Japan in 2015, or to Italy in 2016? There are plenty of less dramatic examples. They often boil down to the Boks dialing back their focus and intensity, presuming they can win with less than 100% commitment. This can be true of most teams, but there is a reason that the Boks are prone to it. It boils down to the Bok game plan being predicated on intensity. The game plan works because of the relentless and suffocating pressure that they apply. They don’t allow the opponent to control the game, and they pounce on any mistake. It works fantastically, but it is extremely demanding on the Bok players to pull it off. And the problem is that it stops working if you execute at anything less than full throttle. Complacency kills the Boks because it can lead to them playing at 97% and getting embarrassed. So the Bulls/Leinster result is dangerous. It’s exactly what is needed to introduce that hint of over-confidence. Rassie needs to remind the team of the RWC pool game, and of the fact that Ireland have won 8 of the 12 games between the teams in the last 20 years. And of course the Leinster result also means that Ireland have a point to prove. Comments like “a club team beating a test team” will be pasted on the changing room walls. They will be out to prove that the result of the RWC game truly reflects the pecking order between the teams. The Boks can win these games, but, as always, they need to avoid the kryptonite.

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