INVERCARGILL, New Zealand (AP) — The Dunedin-based Highlanders preserved their slim hopes of a place in the Super Rugby quarterfinals with a 49-12 bonus-point win on Friday over the New South Wales Waratahs who found themselves finally shut out of the playoffs race.
The Highlanders scored six tries, including a penalty try, to lead 42-7 by halftime, placing a substantial downpayment on a playoffs place. They lost their way and scored only one more try in the second half.
The win lifted them to fifth place in the overall table, with the top eight teams qualifying for the quarterfinals. With six matches remaining in this weekend's final round, the Highlanders can still be shuffled back out of the playoffs zone and must now sweat on the outcome of those games.
"Obviously we knew we needed to score tries and get a good win to give ourselves any sort of chance," Highlanders captain Luke Whitelock said. "We've done our part.
"The guys were obviously focused on that and they went out and played some bloody good footy."
The Waratahs needed a bonus-point win to have even a tiny chance of remaining in the playoff race.
They began the final round in 12th place with 30 points while the eighth-place team had 34 points. That meant they needed a bonus-point win — five points — to insert themselves into the top eight, then needed almost every other match to go in their favor to ensure they remained there.
Instead, the Waratahs found themselves overwhelmed by a determined Highlanders team which raced to a 28-0 lead with four converted tries in the first 24 minutes.
Josh McKay, Tevita Li, lock Tom Franklin and winger Waisake Naholo scored tries as the Highlanders raced to a 28-0 lead in 24 minutes.
The Waratahs struck back with a try to fullback Alex Newsome but the Highlanders went further ahead with a penalty try from a rolling maul and a try to center Tei Walden.
The second half lost its structure and both teams managed only one try apiece, through flyhalf Mack Mason for the Waratahs and center Rob Thompson for the Highlanders.
More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports