A strong second half performance helped the Highlanders brush the Waratahs aside 44-28, although they would not be entirely happy to miss out on a bonus-point.
Trailing 13-14 at half-time, the home side ran in a further five tries in a dominant period but the Waratahs scored a few late tries to deny the home side a bonus-point victory.
The Highlanders were not really firing up until the 45th minute when they punished the Waratahs for being reduced to 14 men, following Dean Mumm's yellow card. Their bench came on to make a massive impact in putting the Waratahs away.
Marty Banks opened the scoring after 12 minutes with a successful penalty before the Highlanders pushed themselves further ahead as Richard Buckman pounced on a loose ball to down in the corner. Banks' conversion ensuring a 10-0 lead after 16 minutes.
The Waratahs hit back a few minutes later with a try of their own when fullback Israel Folau sliced through the Highlanders' defence. Bernard Foley added the extras to cut the deficit to 7-10 after 19 minutes.
Banks pushed the lead to six points in the 32nd minute with his second penalty of the match but the Waratahs went into the break with an unlikely lead after Taqele Naiyaravoro powered his way over the line following a solid scrum on the Highlanders' five-metre line.
Foley's conversion ensured a 14-13 lead at the interval.
The match was turned on its head in the 45th minute when Dean Mumm was shown a yellow card for a dangerous clean-out where he tipped an opponent over. From the resulting penalty, the Highlanders opted for a five-metre line-out and a powerful maul drive allowed Liam Coltman to score.
The home side stretched their lead even further in the 50th minute when Tevita Li chased down a perfect Malakai Fekitoa chip ahead. Banks was unable to convert both tries but the home side enjoyed a 23-14 lead.
There was no stopping the Highlanders at that time as they bagged their fourth try just after the hour mark. A simple backline move saw the ball go through numerous hands and Rob Thompson was put through a gap and dotted down. Lima Sopoaga popped over the conversion for a 30-14 lead after 65 minutes.
The Waratahs finally got some second-half points in the 70th minute when Jake Gordon sniped around the fringe to worm his way over. Foley's conversion reduced the deficit to 21-30 to keep the visitors in the contest.
But the Highlanders hit back with two quick, free-flowing team tries that put more cushion to their lead. First, Daniel Lienert-Brown rounded off a breakaway try before Sopoaga dotted down after the move started some 80-metres from the Waratahs' try-line.
Sopoaga converted both efforts to stretch the lead to 44-21 after 75 minutes.
The Waratahs were not going to be outdone though and some quick thinking by Gordon saw him dot down under the uprights following a quickly taken penalty. Foley drop-kicked the conversion to trail 28-44 with three minutes remaining.
Man of the match: Bernard Foley was once again spot on with his kicking at goals while he also controlled the game well when he had the chance. Israel Folau was dangerous when the opportunity presented itself. Any of the Highlanders' replacements can be mentioned for their impact, while Waisake Naholo remained a threat throughout the encounter. Malakai Fekitoa had his moments but there was one person who stood head and shoulders above anyone. He carried strongly, defended well and got his side on the front foot with almost every carry - Ben Smith.
For the Highlanders:
Tries: Buckman, Coltman, Li, Thompson, Lienert-Brown, Sopoaga
Cons: Banks, Sopoaga 3
Pens: Banks 2
For the Waratahs:
Tries: Folau, Naiyaravoro, Gordon 2
Cons: Foley 4
Yellow card: Dean Mumm (Waratahs, 45; Dangerous clean-out - tipping an opponent)
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (co-captain), 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Richard Buckman, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Alex Ainley, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Aki Seiuli.
Replacements: 16 Ash Dixon (co-captain), 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Gareth Evans, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23 Rob Thompson.
Waratahs: 15 Israel Folau, 14 Taqele Naiyaravoro, 13 Rob Horne, 12 David Horwitz, 11 Cam Clark, 10 Bernard Foley, 10 Bernard Foley, 9 Nick Phipps, 8 Michael Wells, 7 Michael Hooper (captain), 6 Ned Hanigan, 5 Will Skelton, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Sekope Kepu, 2 Tolu Latu, 1 Tom Robertson.
Replacements: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Paddy Ryan, 18 Angus Ta'avao, 19 David McDuling, 20 Jed Holloway, 21 Jake Gordon, 22 Bryce Hegarty, 23 Irae Simone.
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: James Doleman (New Zealand), Cam Stone (New Zealand)
TMO: Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
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