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Super Rugby: Waratahs clinch first place and a home semi-final after Highlanders win
Full-back Israel Folau scored his 12th try of the season as New South Wales Waratahs beat Highlanders 44-16 on Sunday to clinch first place and a home semi-final in Super Rugby with a round to spare.
Folau collected Kurtley Beale's inside pass from center to score in the 42nd minute, boosting the Waratahs' confidence after they had taken a brittle 11-9 lead at half-time.
Winger Rob Horne, prop Sekope Kepu, scrum-half Nick Phipps, lock Jacques Potgeiter and replacement Taqele Naiyaravoro also scored tries as the Waratahs claimed a bonus point, making their place atop the table unassailable with a franchise-record sixth-straight win.
Waratahs were expected to run the show in the opening 40 minutes, but that was not the case. Horne's finish after good work from Kurtley Beale, Michael Hooper and Phipps the was their lone five-pointer.
Lima Sopoaga did reply for the Highlanders in the 22nd minute before Foley added his second penalty of the game to make it 11-3 just before the half-hour mark in Sydney.
The Highlanders then enjoyed something of a purple patch leading up to the break as two more Sopoaga penalties made it a two-point game at half time.
After the resumption things went pear-shaped for the visitors as a fumble close to his own line from Ben Smith led to opposite number Folau powering over from close-range before Kepu was the next to cross on 50 minutes to make it 23-9 as the floodgates opened.
Phipps was the fourth scorer in the 63rd minute with a strong finish following Wylciff Palu's offload and then Potgieter was set up by Kepu to make it 37-9 with nine minutes remaining.
Highlanders replacement Phil Burleigh did score an impressive individual effort after he collected his own chip to get the visitors on the try board.
Although it was fitting that the Waratahs had the final say, Naiyaravoro adding the gloss with a simple run-in on the left wing.