Impressive Waratahs lock up top spot in Super Rugby

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James Mortimer     07 Jul 2014     Getty Images

The six tries to one victory for the men from Sydney hasn’t ended the hopes of the Otago based franchise, but Jamie Joseph and his team will need to defeat the Crusaders next week in the final round.

The Waratahs meanwhile with 53 competition points cannot be overhauled.

It is the first time the side from Sydney will be assured of finishing number one, giving them an inside chance of hosting a final.

Twelve Super Rugby champions have been crowned thanks to their efforts of qualifying as the top team, a noticeable statistic when considering the 18-year life of the tournament.

Despite glimpses in the first half from the Highlanders, the Waratahs kept applying pressure in the set piece and the breakdown, even if it was their backline that provided the difference.

Bernard Foley and Nick Phipps were particularly impressive, guiding their stellar backline and Israel Folau with menace.

Meanwhile the Highlanders were able to get Aaron Smith and others involved, but overall it was the Australians structure and threat on attack that saw them record a series of feats.

It is now six in a row for the first time in their history, and the Waratahs have won 11 of their last 14 against Kiwi franchises in their own backyard. 

This was NSW biggest win against the Highlanders, and the visitor’s sixth straight loss on Australian soil and seventh defeat in nine arrivals in Sydney.

A very full stadium saw both teams come out with intent obvious, and it was the home team who had the better running as their backline clicked into gear thanks to plenty of possession from their Wallaby laced forward pack.

Waratahs first five-eighth Bernard Foley would knock over the first points of the game in the 2nd minute.

The Highlanders were able to have some chances via the aggressive nature of their forwards, but despite some visibility from Malakai Fekitoa, Ben Smith and others were quiet.

The tourists were quite happy to kick, and were clearly trying to impose themselves on the Waratahs up front, which was producing mixed results.

Rob Horne scored the first try in the 12th minute with a move which to be fair looked inevitable with some good attacking play, and a few minutes later Aaron Smith was sent from the field with a yellow for what looked to have been illegal play at the ruck.

The Waratahs kept showing why they are regarded as an up tempo team willing to move the ball, trapping the Highlanders in their own half with the host’s continuity approach working well.

Despite the touring outfits rush defence attempts, they were conceding territory and possession, even if Lima Sopoaga in the 21st minute managed to register opening points.

It began a turnaround of sorts for the hosts.

Foley would kick over another but Sopoaga would reply twice, and the Waratahs would still threaten, but were finding the abrasive Highlanders difficult to overcome.

The half would settle out with the travellers evening out statistics, even if their usually strong defence was being pushed by the Waratahs.

It was 11-9 at the end of 40 minutes.

The second stanza would be all NSW initially, with the Waratahs scoring two tries in the first ten minutes of the half via Folau and Sekope Kepu.

Folau was his usual electric self when scoring but it was the forward’s try that showcased the team’s attack, playing with great confidence even when passing the ball around the big men.

Ben Smith, who was kept from making an impact for the most part, cut the Waratahs apart with a scything run, but it would be NSW who would continue to attack.

Phipps would be awarded a try, the home team's offensive bonus point, and they were really looking sharp as the contest entered the fourth quarter.

A consolation score to Phil Burleigh would be scant reward for the tourist’s competitiveness, but the Waratahs put together what has now become an expectedly polished performance.

Jacques Potgieter and Taqele Naiyaravoro scored for the home team again which would have pleased the coaching staff as they never took their foot off the Highlanders throat.

Waratahs 44

Tries: Horne (12), Folau (42), Kepu (51), Phipps (63), Potgieter (70), Naiyaravoro (77)
Cons: Foley (43, 64, 70, 78)
Pens: Foley (2, 28)

Highlanders 16

Tries: Burleigh (72)
Cons: Parker (73)
Pens: Sopoaga (22, 31, 38)