Super Rugby Champions the Highlanders ended their Super Rugby pre-season with a 40-35 victory over the Waratahs in Queenstown, New Zealand
Both teams scored five tries in a match which neither side was able to pull away from the other and create a big gap on the scoreboard.
Kurtley Beale had a perfect night with the boot, successfully adding to the scoreboard with every conversion opportunity.
The trial got off to an exciting start when the Highlanders found the try line in the first two minutes, with a quick five pointer from Malakai Fekitoa, handing the Highlanders an early lead.
The Waratahs were quick to answer when Captain Michael Hooper scored under the posts and, with a successful conversion from Kurtley Beale, the scores were drawn at 7-all.
The next points were handed to the opposition through two penalty kicks to Lima Sopoaga, bringing the Highlanders’ lead out to 13 points to 7.
Showing plenty of promise in attack, the Waratahs soon found themselves back on the front foot as the Highlanders were handed a penalty for infringing at the ruck.
A good kick from the Waratahs deep into the Highlanders’ 22 resulted in a lineout just 10 metres out.
The Tahs built on the momentum, stealing the lead by one thanks to a try from Jed Holloway and another fine kick from Beale.
Hooper returned to his best at the breakdown making a crucial turnover, while Israel Folau looked dangerous with a number of breaks in his first game back following injury.
The game settled into a tight tussle in the middle before the Tahs broke the brief stalemate. Following a multi-phase attack, hooker Tatafu Polota-Nau spotted a gap, bursting through for another try under the posts, extending the Waratahs edge by 21 to 13.
With the clock ticking down to half-time the Highlanders wasted no opportunity, sealing another try through Fekitoa right on the buzzer, leaving the Waratahs up by just one point at the break.
The Waratahs were boosted by the likes of Tolu Latu, Jack Dempsey, Will Skelton, Bernard Foley, Zac Guildford and front-rower Matt Sandell, who ran on for his first Waratahs appearance in the second half.
A well-placed kick from Beale found Bryce Hegarty, who dotted the ball down just over a minute in, bringing the Waratahs lead up by eight points.
Some sharp play from Waisake Naholo saw the Highlanders answer back once again, adding to the scoreboard with a five-pointer to Ben Smith in the right corner. The conversion from Sopoaga was unsuccessful this time, leaving it at 28-25 with 35 minutes left in the match.
The Tahs sustained their attack, but a turnover ball from the Highlanders saw them go the full length to cross the line again through Fekitoa for a hat-trick to bring his side back in front by 32-28.
An opportunity was handed the Waratahs way, winning a penalty just seven metres out from the tryline and, with another good kick into touch, edged their way closer again.
After several strong carries from the Tahs forwards, the ball found its way tto Bernard Foley in his first match for the Waratahs this year. A good offload to speedster, Zac Guildford saw the former All Black score his first for the Tahs, as they took the lead by three.
A try by the Highlanders’ Ben Smith, together with an additional penalty goal from Hayden Parker sealed the Tahs’ fate in the end, leaving the Highlanders with the final lead.
The Waratahs start their Super Rugby campaign next week against the Reds in Syndey at Allianz Stadium while the Highlanders in Auckland against the Blues.
Final Score Highlanders 40 (20) Waratahs 35 (21)
Tries – Fekitoa (3), Smith (2)
Pen – Sopoaga (2) ,Parker
Con – Sopoaga (3)
Tries – Hooper, Holloway, Polota-Nau, Hegarty, Guildford
Con – Beale (5)
1. Daniel Lienert-Brown, 2. Liam Coltman, 3. Josh Hohneck, 4. Tom Franklin, 5. Joe Wheeler, 6. Luke Whitelock, 7. James Lentjes, 8. Liam Squire, 9. Aaron Smith, 10. Lima Sopoaga, 11. Patrick Osborne, 12. Rob Thompson, 13. Malakai Fekitoa, 14. Waisake Naholo, 15. Ben Smith ( c )
Replacements : 16. Ash Dixon, 17. Brendon Edmonds, 18. Ross Geldenhuys, 19. Mark Reddish, 20. Gareth Evans, 21. Fumiaki Tanaka, 22. Elliot Dixon, 23. Jason Emery, 24. Teihorangi Walden, 25. Matt Faddes, 26. Hayden Parker, 27. Dan Pryor
1. Paddy Ryan, 2. Tatafu Polota-Nau, 3. Angus Ta’avao, 4. Dean Mumm, 5. Sam Lousi, 6. David Dennis, 7. Michael Hooper (C), 8. Jed Holloway, 9. Nick Phipps, 10. Kurtley Beale, 11. Andrew Kellaway, 12. David Horwitz, 13. Rob Horne, 14. Reece Robinson, 15. Israel Folau
Replacements:, 16. Tolu Latu, 17. Jeremy Tilse, 18. Benn Robinson, 19. Will Skelton, 20. Jack Dempsey, 21. Matt Lucas, 22. Bryce Hegarty, 23. Zac Guildford, 24. Jake Gordon, 25. Matt Carraro, 26. Senio Toleafoa, 27. Matt Sandell, 28. Hugh Roach, 29. Ned Hanigan, 30. Brad Wilkin, 31. Bernard Foley, 32. Harry Jones