SYDNEY (Reuters) - The New South Wales Waratahs held their collective nerve to end nearly two years and 40 matches of New Zealand Super Rugby dominance over Australia by beating a short-handed Otago Highlanders side 41-12 on Saturday.
The Highlanders were always up against it after winger Tevita Nabura had been sent off in the 19th minute for kicking Waratahs winger Cam Clark in the face, and the visitors had to play with 13 men for 10 minutes in the first half.
The Waratahs, who gave up a 29-0 lead to lose last week, initially made heavy work of it but a brace apiece from Taqele Naiyaravoro and Israel Folau along with tries from Lalakai Foketi and Curtis Rona were enough to snap the streak.
No Australian side had beaten New Zealand opposition in Super Rugby since the Waratahs thrashed the Waikato Chiefs 45-25 on May 27, 2016, a miserable run that sparked a crisis of confidence in the game on the western shore of the Tasman Sea.
That was reflected in the disappointing turnout at the home of the 2014 champions but the fans who did pitch up soon had something to cheer about when Naiyaravoro finished off a flowing Waratahs move for his first try after 15 minutes.
Flyhalf Bernard Foley, who missed a couple of clutch kicks in last week’s 31-29 loss to the Crusaders, failed to add the extras to his sixth minute penalty but the Waratahs soon had a one-man advantage.
Nabura had successfully gathered a high ball when, still airborne, he lashed out at the face of the oncoming Clark with his boot, collecting the inevitable red card once the referee had watched the incriminating footage on the big screen.
Worse was to come for the Highlanders two minutes later when All Blacks scrumhalf Aaron Smith was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on which prevented a Waratahs line-break.Naiyaravoro collected his second try soon afterwards, the big winger doing well to ground the ball after being spun in the air by a crunching Waisake Naholo tackle and taking the lead to 15-0 after Foley converted.
Fullback Folau found some space out wide to extend the lead three minutes after the break but the Highlanders hit straight back when a crosskick found flanker Elliot Dixon all on his own by the right touchline.
Another flash of the breathtaking 15-man rugby the Australian conference leaders are capable of playing sent Folau in for his 50th Super Rugby try after 55 minutes with Foley again converting to push the lead out to 29-7.
Highlanders hooker Ash Dixon immediately cut the deficit off the back of a rolling maul but replacement Waratahs back Foketi restored the advantage and centre Rona put a gloss on the bonus point win 13 minutes from time.
Editing by Toby Davis