Super Rugby: Highlanders 30-26 Waratahs
Last Updated: 21/03/16 9:49am
Defending champions Highlanders held off a storming comeback from the Waratahs to win a high-scoring Super Rugby game 30-26 in Sydney.
The Highlanders powered to a 30-0 lead after 55 minutes but had to withstand a superb fightback from the home side, who pulled to within four points with seven minutes left.
But Otago regrouped and held on to their lead to go to the top of the New Zealand conference midway through the fourth round of the five-nation tournament, while the 2014 champions fell to their second loss in three matches.
The Highlanders, who eliminated the Waratahs 35-17 in last year's semi-finals, have now beaten the Sydneysiders in four of their last five encounters.
Ryan Tongia scored the opening try in the 11th minute and Liam Squire punished a dropped Waratahs ball 18 minutes later.
Flanker Elliot Dixon scored the first of his two tries off a kick from winger Matt Faddes to have the Highlanders leading 22-0 at half-time with fly-half Lima Sopoaga contributing two conversions and a penalty.
Dixon scored again off a high kick seven minutes after the resumption and a Sopoaga drop kick pushed the Highlanders out to 30-0 before the Waratahs sprung into action.
They rattled off 26 points in 17 minutes to give their fans hope of a stirring come-from-behind victory. Jed Holloway, a half-time replacement, scored a hat-trick of tries with another replacement Tom Robertson scoring a fourth, Wallaby Kurtley Beale converting three of the tries.
But the Highlanders steadied and repulsed the Waratahs' comeback to take home the points.
"It's back to the drawing board," said Waratahs captain Michael Hooper ahead of their next match against the Reds in Brisbane.