Daniel Halangahue bombed a sitter conversion in Dunedin last night for the Highlanders to win 18-17. The captain’s casual approach proved very costly, but that’s how the Waratahs play their rugby.
They casually wander offside, casually knock-on or forward pass, casually miss-touch, or casually miss their lineout jumpers.
Their one constant saving grace – a solid defensive pattern.
Yet the men-in-blue boast a Wallaby-filled squad. Go figure.
Having said that, how on earth did the Waratahs get so close when it took them 34 minutes to move inside the Highlander quarter for the first time, and 44 minutes for the second time with the Pat McCutcheon charge-down try. Sadly, the flanker badly dislocated his ankle scoring, and will be out of action for sometime.
In the wash-up NSW had only 38% possession, and 41% territory.
Played under the Forsyth Barr Stadium closed roof making perfect conditions, this clash was previewed as the best of the Super Rugby third round.
And for sheer intensity played at a cracking pace, the rating was spot on. By the 80th minute both sides were knackered.
But on all the stats, the Highlanders should have won by the length of the straight. Yet they would have lost had it not been for Halangahue’s howler.
A strange game leaving the Highlanders unbeaten after three and the Waratahs with one win, and two close losses to pick up bonus points for losing by less than 7.
There were two other Australian conference games last night. The Brumbies won 24-23 over the Cheetahs in Canberra with an 80th-minute penalty from Christian Lealiifano, and the Reds an 11-6 winner over a much-improved Rebels at Suncorp.
The contrasting crowds told the interest – 12,377 in Canberra, 34,126 at Suncorp.
The Brumbies had been bitching all week their coach Jake White could possibly leave them in the first of his four-year contract to coach England.
By the 48th minute the Brumbies were trailing 23-10, and never looked in the hunt until Wallaby centre Pat McCabe, playing on the wing, injected himself into the fray.
His try, and an 8-2 favourable penalty count in the last 32 minutes from Kiwi referee Keith Brown saw the Brumbies whittle away the deficit to win at the death with the last penalty on the full-time siren.
The defending champion Reds can thank winger Dom Shipperly for remaining unbeaten after three rounds.
At the start of the tournament, the Waratahs casually kicked away possession in the last minute for Shipperly to race 75 metres to touch down for a Reds 26-24 win.
Last night he was the only try-scorer in a penalty-dominated game. But the plaudits go to the Rebels for a marvellous defensive effort under pressure, their best yet.
That was a huge plus, but the Rebels have an on-going major problem with their inability to score tries.
Fix that, and the Rebels will be a genuine handful with crack Wallabies James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale new additions to the squad.
But right now the Reds are the team to beat. And they don’t mind winning ugly.