Kiwis rule Super Rugby
It will be the first time in nine years that two New Zealand teams contest the final
The well-drilled Highlanders upset the defending champions Waratahs 35-17 yesterday to set up an all-New Zealand Super Rugby final in Sydney on Saturday. The Highlanders executed their game plan to perfection to throw the Waratahs out of their playing rhythm, scoring five tries to one after leading 15-14 at half-time. The Highlanders will face competition favourites the Hurricanes in the final on Saturday after the New Zealand conference champions knocked out the Brumbies 29-9 earlier in Wellington.
It will be the first all-Kiwi Super Rugby final since 2006, when the Crusaders beat the Hurricanes 19-12.
The Highlanders dictated play with their tactical kicking and structured forward play to register their first win in Sydney in eight years.
The out-of-sorts Waratahs contributed to their downfall with shoddy handling and 18 turnovers in one of their worst performances of the season.
The Highlanders trailed the Waratahs 17-15 after 50 minutes, but the Kiwis scored 20 unanswered points, leaving them convincing winners.
The Highlanders’ tries were scored by impressive scrum half Aaron Smith, Richard Buckman, Waisake Naholo and Patrick Osborne, while South African referee Craig Joubert ruled a contentious penalty try when Jacques Potgieter was given a yellow card for a swinging arm in a tackle on Osborne near the Waratahs’ try line. Fly half Lima Sopoaga kicked two conversions, a penalty goal and a drop goal. The Waratahs scored their only try through winger Rob Horne in the 11th minute and fly half Bernard Foley landed four penalties.
Earlier in the day, brothers Ardie and Julian Savea had scored tries either side of half-time to help propel the Hurricanes to their victory over the Brumbies and into their first Super Rugby final since 2006.
Scrum half TJ Perenara and replacement winger Matt Proctor also scored for the home side, who were still mourning the death of former All Blacks and Hurricanes loose forward Jerry Collins earlier this month following a car crash in France.
Fly half Christian Lealiifano (two) and fullback Jesse Mogg slotted penalties for the visitors, who could do little to shut down the high-octane attack from the home side.
Renowned for his bone-jarring tackles, Collins would have been proud of his former team as they withstood a torrid opening five minutes from the visitors and then, as they have done so consistently all season, simply got into their work.
The pack took the ball forward and committed defenders before the backline – sparked by new All Blacks winger Nehe Milner-Skudder – made breaks out wide.
That relentless pressure eventually told and winger Julian Savea was able to barrel over to open the scoring in the 21st minute before Perenara finished off another break from Milner-Skudder for his 11th try of the season.
A HAND UP Alex Ainley of the Highlanders steals a line-out ball during the Super Rugby semifinal against the Waratahs at Allianz Stadium yesterday
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