Waratahs edge out Highlanders in preseason

ADRIAN WARREN
Last updated 02:23 15/02/2014
John Hardie
Getty Images
HURTING HIGHLANDER: John Hardie receives treatment on his right shoulder during the Highlanders' trial loss to the Waratahs in Newcastle.

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The NSW Waratahs shaded the Highlanders 19-16 in a Super Rugby trial on Friday night that may have produced more questions than answers.

The Waratahs scored three tries to one in a hard-fought but scrappy and mistake-riddled affair.

As expected, Waratahs coach Michael Cheika gave all three halfbacks a run and experimented with his five-eighth and inside centre positions.

He replaced starting halves Matt Lucas and Bernard Foley little more than a quarter into the game, bringing on Brendan McKibbin and Kurtley Beale respectively.

After halftime, Foley was reinstated at five-eighth and Beale was moved to inside centre in place of Rob Horne.

Cheika stuck with that configuration for the entire second half, in what could be a clue to his starting side for the opening round match against Western Force in Sydney next Sunday.

While both teams produced flashes of flair, both were guilty of errors and turnovers.

The Waratahs trailed 13-12 at the break despite scoring two tries to one.

Winger Peter Betham was first to cross, rounding off a sweeping first-phase move from a lineout.

Flanker Michael Hooper crossed for the Waratahs' second, initiating the move after stealing a Highlanders restart and finishing it in the same corner as Betham's five-pointer.

The Highlanders' sole first-half five-pointer was scored by Shane Christie, who sprinted away unchallenged after All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith filched the ball taken in by opposing halfback McKibbin.

It was Foley who regained the lead for NSW, just before the hour, scoring their third try and converting to give the home team a 19-13 advantage.

NSW's third halfback Nick Phipps, one of the Waratahs' main recruits, also got a run in the second half, as Cheika made plenty of changes in the last 20 minutes.

Springbok forward Jacques Potgieter had his first run in a Waratahs jersey in the second half.

Christie kicked a 69th-minute penalty following a Waratahs scrum infringement to cut the deficit to three.

"That was a good hitout for us; that was exactly the type of thing that we needed," Cheika said.

"A team that's going to go hard at the rucks and how we're going to go around it.

"Sometimes we did some good things to get around it, sometimes we didn't.

"All in all some of the things we've been concentrating on like our physicality, our body height at rucks and our defence, I thought was quite good.

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"Because when you focus a lot on attack like we do, some days it doesn't work out and you've got to rely on your defence.

"Probably disappointed with the amount of line breaks we didn't convert. We broke the line well and we didn't finish."

Centre Jono Lance suffered a side injury and didn't play and Cheika wasn't sure of the extent of the injury.

- AAP

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