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Opening the floodgates is a sure-fire way to break a drought. The Waratahs rained in six tries to the Highlanders two at Allianz Stadium last night, to end a two-year and 40-match dry spell for Aussie teams in trans-Tasman fixtures.
It was a great response by the Tahs to last week’s gut-wrencher against the Crusaders.
The key moment came in the 19th minute with the home side 8-0 up, Highlanders winger Tevita Nabura jumped up for a high ball but decided to do his best Bruce Lee impression on the way down with a boot to Cam Clark’s face.
The intention was obvious as Nabura locked eyes on his opposing wing as he proceeded to sink his studs into his mush.
Although Kiwi referee Brendon Pickerill, the TV commentators (including Clark’s dad Greg, who maintained a stoic silence as the replays were shown) and most viewers missed it in real time, a check upstairs confirmed the deliberate action and Nabura was red-carded out of the game.
While not justice for Joe Moody’s elbow on Kurtley Beale in Christchurch last Saturday, it was some sort of consolation.
The equation got harder again for the visitors when their spark plug Aaron Smith got pulled from the game for 10 when binned for deliberately knocking the ball down.
Monster wing Taqele Naiyaravoro had scored the first try of the match with a hot-stepping effort to the line in the 15th minute following some excellent lead-up work from Beale and Israel Folau.
Naiyaravoro struck again while the Highlanders had just 13 on the pitch, getting enough fingertips on the ball over the line to have the Tahs up 15-zip.
Despite a few streaky moments late in the half, including dropped balls and inexplicable kicking away of possession, often down the throat of normally deadly counter attacker Waisake Naholo, the Tahs retained the margin into the break.
‘Surely, we can’t stuff it up from here like we did last week’ is what none of the Tahs’ players would have said at halftime but many would have been excused for thinking.
The determination to finish the job and end the hoodoo was palpable in the opening moments of the second spell when they won their own kick off and two phases later Bernard Foley, who had an excellent game, successfully marketed a dummy to hare up the field and send Curtis Rona over the line but unable to ground the ball.
Two minutes later Folau was in for the first of his two tries in the opposite corner from where Foley banged over the extras, for the perfect start to the half.
The hoodoo demons briefly appeared when the Highlanders opened their scoring from the next play when Ben Smith put a smart kick pass to an unmarked Elliot Dixon for a converted try.
However, home fears abated in the 55th minute when Folau crashed over for his second for the night and 50th try all up for the Tahs, at the end of a sweeping coast-to-coast movement, which Foley again converted from near the sideline.
Again, the visitors responded immediately, this time via their other Dixon, co-captain Ash, crashing over at the end of a nicely constructed lineout drive.
But that was to be the full extent of this kiwi comeback as the Tahs powered away with two more tries to Lalakai Foketi and Rona, to end a great blight on Australian rugby.
Although Tahs skipper Michael Hooper was having nothing of the hoodoo talk post-match.
“If you’d asked me before the game I wouldn’t have said anything about it, now it doesn’t matter,” he snapped.
“It’s frustrating to hear that all the time and it was the last thing we were thinking about.”
The streak-breaking win couldn’t have come at a more opportune time given Paul Cully’s obituary for Australian Super Rugby in yesterday’s Sydney Morning Herald.
“This competition is dead in Australia. Finito. Over. The golden goose became a turkey and it’s now a dodo,” Cully wrote in his exhortation for Aussie rugby to stick it to SANZAAR and ‘go it alone’.
Well, the dodo has just been given the faintest kiss of life.
The Tahs are away to the Chiefs next Saturday, who will be making the long trip back from South Africa after a 24-28 loss to the Sharks this morning.
Meanwhile the Reds, who kept the all-conquering Hurricanes to within four points in Wellington on Friday, are hosting the Highlanders straight afterwards.
Could an Aussie trans-Tasman winning streak go a full week?