MATCH REPORT: Tahs push the Highlanders until the very end

Fri, Mar 8, 2024, 11:57 AM
Waratahs Media
by Waratahs Media

In their first home match of the season, the NSW Waratahs delivered a spirited performance in front of their loyal fans, but ultimately went down narrowly 23-21 to a determined Highlanders outfit.

The visitors started the match strongly, with a penalty goal from inside centre Sam Gilbert giving the Highlanders an early 3-0 lead.

That was soon extended to 10 points following a bust from fullback Jacob Ratumaitavuki-Kneepkens one pass wide of the ruck in the centre of the field, who found flyhalf Rhys Patchell in support to score.

The boot of Tane Edmed got NSW on the scoreboard in the 13th minute with a penalty goal in front of the uprights, and another from 38 metres out in the 24th minute to reduce the Tahs’ deficit to 10-6.

NSW then hit the front in the 28th minute when Izaia Perese made room for Mark Nawaqanitawase down the right-hand touchline and the blockbusting outside centre collected Nawaqanitawase’s kick infield to score. Edmed’s conversion extended the Tahs’ advantage out to 13-10.

The Highlanders promptly squared the ledger following another penalty goal to Gilbert, but Edmed replied with another one of his on the stroke of half-time to give NSW a 16-13 lead at the break.

Gilbert opened the scoring in the second stanza with a further penalty goal from in front to level scores, before the Highlanders regained the lead when Tanielu Telea scored down the right-hand flank after a long ball out wide by Gilbert stretched the Tahs’ defence. Gilbert’s conversion took the Highlanders' advantage out to seven points.

But the Tahs again rallied, and a brilliant show-and-go from Triston Reilly paved the way for flying fullback Max Jorgensen to cross. Edmed missed with his conversion attempt leaving the Highlanders ahead by two points.

NSW never gave up and had an opportunity to win the match after the full-time siren, but Edmed’s penalty goal attempt fell agonisingly astray. The Highlanders ultimately held on for a 23-21 victory.

Waratahs Captain Jake Gordon was heartbroken not to secure victory in front of the side’s passionate fans, but was proud of his team’s efforts nonetheless.

“That loss really hurts,” Gordon said. "I thought the first half was of really high quality. We were powerful early and got really clean ball.

“In the second half, we couldn’t build on any phases and were pretty scrappy at some points.

“Every time we put ourselves in a good position, we seemed to turn the ball over far too easily.

“I still think at points of the game we looked really sharp, but we just weren’t as sharp when it mattered.

“We had an opportunity at the end to win it, but it wasn’t to be. That’s not on Tane. He had a great game and put in so much effort.

"We had a number of other opportunities to win the game and that’s something we’ve got to work on.”

Highlanders 23

Tries: Rhys Patchell, Tanielu Telea

Goals: Sam Gilbert 2/2

Penalty Goals: Sam Gilbert 3/4

NSW Waratahs 21

Tries: Izaia Perese, Max Jorgensen

Goals: Tane Edmed 1/2

Penalty Goals: Tane Edmed 3/5

Crowd: 13,533