Highlanders on top in Dunedin
Dunedin - The Otago Highlanders edged the New South Wales Waratahs 18-17 in an intense and bruising Super Rugby encounter in Dunedin on Saturday to remain the only team with a 100 percent record in the New Zealand conference.
Playing their second successive match at their new enclosed stadium, the Highlanders made it three wins from three this season with a typically physical performance and tries either side of halftime from scrumhalf Aaron Smith and John Hardie.
The Waratahs led for much of the game, largely through Daniel Halangahu's kicking, and could have nicked a victory at the end but their last possession ended with a turnover and the Highlanders were able to scramble the ball messily into touch.
"Our ball security let us down today but we snuck away for a win and it was bloody great," said Highlanders skipper Jamie Mackintosh.
Halangahu's first two penalties gave the visitors the early lead against the run of play but in the 16th minute Highlanders scrumhalf Smith started a move with a tap penalty and finished it with a try under the posts after a rampaging run from flyhalf Lima Sopoaga.
The Highlanders failed to pull away, however, and Halangahu's third penalty gave them a 9-5 lead which Colin Slade, who had moved to flyhalf when Sopoaga went off injured, reduced to 9-8 at the half with his first three-pointer.
Flanker Pat McCutcheon scored the Waratahs' only try soon after halftime when he charged down a Slade kick but he sustained a serious ankle injury in Buxton Popoali'i's despairing tackle and his evening was over.
After McCutcheon was taken off the pitch on a stretcher, the Highlanders went straight back on the attack and the pressure finally told in the 48th minute when flanker Hardie strolled over in the corner.
All Black Slade converted a difficult kick from the touchline to add the extra points and the Highlanders were in front for the first time in the game at 15-14.
Another Halangahu pot shot followed by Slade's second penalty kept the home side's slender lead intact and both missed chances to add to their tallies in a scrappy and frenetic last 10 minutes.
Tries: Aaron Smith, John Hardie. Conversion: Colin Slade. Penalties: Colin Slade (2).
Try: Patrick McCutcheon. Penalties: Daniel Halangahu (4).