Moment of madness ends Highlanders win streak

Author
Niall Anderson, NZ Herald,
Section
Rugby,
Publish Date
Sunday, 20 May 2018, 6:45AM
Tevita Nabura delivers a flying kick during last night's match.
Tevita Nabura delivers a flying kick during last night's match.

A moment of madness has finally ended New Zealand's historic winning streak over Australian opposition.

The culprit? Highlanders winger Tevita Nabura, who delivered a flying kick to the face of Waratahs opposite Cam Clark when claiming a high ball in the 18th minute.

When coach Aaron Mauger stressed the importance of a good kicking game, that wasn't what he had in mind, and Nabura's baffling brainfade - which could see him banned for the rest of the season - left the Highlanders in an untenable position.

He was rightly shown a red card, and his exit signalled the conclusion of the winning streak, with the Highlanders going down 41-12 to halt the run, finally, at 40 games.

In truth, it may have ended regardless of Nabura's faux pas. The Waratahs were the last Australian team to beat a Kiwi side – 722 days ago - and had so nearly ended the streak the week before, blowing a 29-0 lead against the Crusaders.

This week, they built a 22-0 buffer, and had no problems holding on. Their enterprising style of rugby deserved all five points, with the hosts showing some scintillating moments even before the Highlanders imploded, and then deftly utilising their numbers advantage.

It was a significant advantage – not only were the Highlanders without Nabura for 62 minutes, they also had to play ten minutes with just 13 men after Aaron Smith's attempted intercept was ruled to be a deliberate knockdown.

Tevita Nabura gets his marching orders. Photo / Getty

Tevita Nabura gets his marching orders. Photo / Getty

As it turned out, the Highlanders' performance with 13 men was just as sloppy as it was with 15. In both periods, giant Waratahs winger Taqele Naiyaravoro crossed in the corner – on the second occasion barging past three defenders to plant the ball down in his substantial mitt.

He was a menace for the Highlanders defence all game, beating six defenders as the Highlanders missed 27 tackles, but the whole Waratahs backline was causing problems with their extra man. They really do have some talent in the backs, and Bernard Foley, Kurtley Beale, Curtis Rona and Israel Folau all proved elusive as they attacked from deep with regularity.

Folau gave the Highlanders hell, and it was his impact which denied the Highlanders any chance of an improbable comeback. Folau struck twice after halftime, finishing off flowing end-to-end moves as the Waratahs ripped the Highlanders defence to shreds.

It's that defence which should be the Highlanders' main concern right now. In their past four games, they have conceded 134 points, and while they have a ready-made excuse for tonight's effort, their chances of winning the title look less likely by the week.

The Waratahs, meanwhile, face the Chiefs next week, and who knows – maybe they could start a trans-tasman streak of their own.

Waratahs 41 (T Naiyaravoro 2, I Folau 2, L Foketi, C Rona tries; B Foley 4 cons, pen)
Highlanders 12 (E Dixon, A Dixon tries; L Sopoaga con)
HT: 15-0

 

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