Israel Folau tries to bust through the Highlanders defence.
Israel Folau tries to bust through the Highlanders defence.

Drought broken! Tahs score famous win

AFTER 723 days of agony and embarrassment, and a run of 40 consecutive losses, the gorilla is off the back.

Australia's two-year run of defeats to New Zealand rivals finally ended after the Waratahs hammered Otago's Highlanders 41-12 on Saturday night.

History will record it as the day Prince Harry married Meaghan Markle, and the day the Kiwis' suffocating domination over Australian teams ended.

The streak began so long ago that Muhammad Ali was still alive and the United Kingdom hadn't voted to leave the European Union.

It was a cool 14 degree evening, with barely a breeze blowing at Allianz Stadium in front of 12,308 hardy souls willing to give the Tahs another chance after watching them blow a 29-0 in Christchurch last week.

This time, NSW moved to a 22-0 lead by the 44th minute, but crucially had a one-man advantage.


The pivotal moment came when Highlanders winger Tevita Nabura was sent off in the 18th minute for kicking rival Cameron Clark in the face as he descended from catching a bomb.

Replays showed Nabura catching the ball, turning his sight to Clark as he came down and sticking his studs into the NSW winger's face.

Highlanders winger Tevita Nabura (right) is marched after he kicked the Waratahs’ Cameron Clark in the face.
Highlanders winger Tevita Nabura (right) is marched after he kicked the Waratahs’ Cameron Clark in the face.

After consultation with television match official George Ayoub, referee Brendon Pickerill brandished Nabura the red card.

Just three minutes later, Pickerill and Ayoub were watching replays of Aaron Smith attempting an intercept he clearly wasn't going to catch, denying Tahs halfback Jake Gordon a break.

Applying the consistency used for that offence throughout Super Rugby this season, Smith was sin-binned.

With 15 on 13, NSW capitalised by sending winger Taqele Naiyaravoro over in the corner for his second try. The giant flyer had scored his first when the visitors had full complement in the 15th.

Naiyaravoro's double was followed by two from fullback Israel Folau.

The Waratahs led 15-0 at half-time and 22-0 before the Highlanders got on the board with their first points in the 45th minute.


But any threat that Elliot Dixon's try would spark another remarkable comeback was nullified by NSW's determined, smart and fast attacking play to take advantage of the overlap.

Israel Folau causing the Highlanders defence all sorts of trouble.
Israel Folau causing the Highlanders defence all sorts of trouble.

Folau's second try made it 29-7, the Highlanders hit back via a rolling maul try to Ash Dixon, then the floodgates opened.

NSW coach Daryl Gibson said ending the streak had not been discussed by his side prior to the win.

"Regardless of the fact they had 14 men I thought we played some good football, showed some good control and got a good result," Gibson said.

"You could tell in our attitude, we followed up what we started last week, and what we started against the Blues, and took a good step towards being the team I know this team can be.

"Half the battle is inside your head and tonight we played with confidence, scored some excellent tries, the boys have earned their way."

The Waratahs Michael Hooper looks for support.
The Waratahs Michael Hooper looks for support.

Tahs captain Michael Hooper was just relieved he won't have to answer more questions about the streak.

"To have those questions behind us, it was the first question Canno [FoxSports commentator Brendan Cannon] asked me after the game, to have that stuff put behind and speak about another great challenge in the Chiefs next week, this team is really enjoyable to be around at the moment," Hooper said.

Lalakai Foketi and Curtis Rona both crossed in the final quarter as the Highlanders' legs wearied, and NSW found the attacking verve and defensive composure that lifted them atop the Australian conference five weeks ago.


They'd lost their past three games but the Tahs demonstrated the mental toughness to match their millionaires' roster.

Aussie teams had refused to accept that the long losing streak was a psychological hurdle but the growing streak said otherwise.

Not since May 27, 2016 had an Aussie side defeated a Kiwi team - that was when NSW won 45-25 over the Chiefs.

Australian rugby has suffered immensely over this time.

Fans moved from infuriated to ambivalent, out of the stands, away from the television screens.

The game and its people needed a lift, and NSW lifted them.

A great day for a British-American union, and Aussie union.

NSW WARATAHS 41 (Israel Folau 2, Taqele Naiyaravoro 2, Lalakai Foketi, Curtis Rona tries Bernard Foley 4 cons pen) HIGHLANDERS 12 (Ash Dixon, Elliot Dixon tries Lima Sopoaga con) at Allianz Stadium. Referee: Brendon Pickerill.