Highlanders set up NZ final
Sydney - The well drilled Highlanders upset the defending champions Waratahs 35-17 to set up an all New Zealand Super Rugby final in Sydney on Saturday.
The Highlanders executed their game plan to perfection to throw the Waratahs out of their playing rhythm, scoring score five tries to one after leading 15-14 at half-time.
The Highlanders will face competition favourites the Hurricanes in the final next weekend after the New Zealand Conference champions knocked out the Brumbies 29-9 earlier in Wellington.
It will be the first all Kiwi Super Rugby final since 2006 when the Crusaders beat the Hurricanes 19-12.
The Highlanders dictated play with their tactical kicking and structured forward play to register their first win in Sydney in eight years.
The out-of-sorts Waratahs contributed to their downfall with shoddy handling and 18 turnovers in one of their worst performances of the season.
The Highlanders trailed the Waratahs 17-15 after 50 minutes, but the Kiwis scored 20 unanswered points leaving them convincing winners.
The Highlanders' tries were scored by impressive scrumhalf Aaron Smith, Richard Buckman, Waisake Naholo and Patrick Osborne, while South African referee Craig Joubert ruled a contentious penalty try when Jacques Potgieter was given a yellow card for a swinging arm in a tackle on Osborne near the Waratahs try-line.
Flyhalf Lima Sopoaga kicked two conversions, a penalty goal and a drop goal.
The Waratahs scored their only try through winger Rob Horne in the 11th minute and flyhalf Bernard Foley landed four penalties.
"We got it right tonight and we have a big challenge ahead of us next week," Highlanders skipper Ben Smith said.
"Our forward pack is way under-rated, they have big tickers and are skillful players and every week you know what you're getting from them.
"Aaron Smith turned them around in the dewy conditions to keep the ball behind the Waratahs."
Waratahs skipper Dave Dennis said the Highlanders were tactically sound.
"We got beaten by a better team, they kicked very well tactically and put us under a lot of pressure and we put ourselves under pressure as well and didn't get much rhythm in the game."
Waratahs 17 (14)
Try: Rob Thorne
Penalties: Bernard Foley (4)
Highlanders 35 (15)
Tries: Aaron Smith, Richard Buckman, Waisake Naholoa, Penalty Try, Patrick Osborne
Conversions: Lima Sopoaga (2)
Drop goal: Sopoaga