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Highlanders a match for anyone

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Highlanders dismantle Waratahs

Venue: Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin
Highlanders 26 - 19 Waratahs
Half-time: 14 - 12
Tries: Franklin, Naholo, Osborne, BR Smith
Cons: Sopoaga 3
Tries: Carraro, Hoiles, Phipps
Cons: Foley 2

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Jacques Potgieter of the Waratahs on the charge, Highlanders v Waratahs, Forsyth Barr Stadium, Dunedin, March 14, 2015

The Highlanders were hammering in defenceĀ© Getty Images

Matches: Highlanders 26 - 19 Waratahs

Despite a slow start, the Highlanders were at their best for most of the night as they slowly took apart the Waratahs attack and crashed through the Tahs defence to earn a four-try bonus-point win. Although the Tahs made sure to fight back in the final minutes with a 76th minute try, the Highlanders' lead was just too much to chase down.

The Highlanders piled on four unanswered tries in a 20-minute blitz either side of halftime to swamp the Waratahs under the closed roof at Forsyth Barr Stadium on Saturday.

The Waratahs made a slick enough start, with half-back Nick Phipps and centre Matt Carraro both crossing from well-executed set-piece moves before classy Highlanders No.9 Aaron Smith seized control of the match. With the Tahs falling off tackles and unable to match the Highlanders' physicality and efficiency at the breakdown, Smith had an afternoon out setting up his big and pacey backs.

Dejected captain Dave Dennis says the NSW Waratahs must stamp out costly concentration lapses to revive their Super Rugby title defence. Dennis admitted the concentration dips were becoming a concern.

"We play some good footy in patches and then drop off during games and that's about where we're at at the moment," Dennis said. "Three individual errors cost us 21 points tonight and we're showing similar signs at training. "We need to stay focused, stay positive and work hard. It's hard to pinpoint why we're dropping off."

The Waratahs made a similarly stuttering start to their 2014 title-winning campaign, but that was no consolation to the skipper.

"You don't want to look back too much," Dennis said. "We were inconsistent last year early in terms of going win, loss, win, loss, but our expectations and standards in our performances are higher now."

A yellow card for NSW prop Sekope Kepu for cynical play while defending his line invited the Highlanders into the contest and Smith wasted no time putting lock Tom Franklin over for the home side's first try with a sniping dart from the scrum base.

The match turned just before half-time when Malakai Fekitoa dispossessed Israel Folau in a tackle before setting powerhouse winger Waisake Naholo off on a 60-metre sprint to the line. Fullback Ben Smith increased the Highlanders' two-point halftime advantage with powerful, direct hole-running and then a breakout try to winger Patrick Osborne after some Highlanders razzle dazzle had the Waratahs chasing the game.

A late try to replacement back-rower Stephen Hoiles salvaged a bonus point for the Tahs, but coach Michael Cheika will be disappointed by his side's scrappy performance and how they were out-muscled in their first trans-Tasman clash of 2015.

Unbeaten on the road since round 14 last year, the Waratahs had been chasing six straight away wins for the first time in 20 seasons of Super Rugby. Instead, their second defeat from four starts this campaign leaves the titleholders languishing mid-table ahead of next weekend's blockbuster derby with Australian conference leaders the Brumbies at Allianz Stadium.


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