Tahs beaten by Highlanders in Super Rugby

Adrian Warren
AAP
Tahs lose to Highlanders in Super Rugby

NSW Waratahs captain Michael Hooper has lamented another undisciplined performance from his side, with their Super Rugby finals hopes taking a big hit with a 44-28 loss to the Highlanders in Dunedin.

The Tahs' hopes of topping the Australian conference are diminishing by the week, surrendering a 14-13 halftime lead on Saturday and conceding 17-straight points after the break.

The loss, which came exactly one year to the day since an Australian team last won a trans-Tasman game, leaves the Tahs second in the Australian conference.

They remain four points behind the Brumbies, who can stretch that lead by beating the Jaguares on Sunday morning in Buenos Aires.

In a further blow for the Waratahs, halfback Nick Phipps injured his ankle and will have a scan on Sunday.

The Highlanders scored six tries to four, including five of the first six in the second half.

They capitalised on a one-man advantage early in the second half, when they scored two tries while Waratahs lock Dean Mumm was in the sin bin.

Mumm, who earlier this week announced he would retire at the end of this year, was given a yellow card for a dangerous tackle, but looked a little unlucky.

The Tahs were also a trifle unfortunate with the first-half try they conceded, when Richard Buckman appeared to come from an offside position to swoop on the ball after Bernard Foley's kick bounced off the legs of Luke Whitelock.

However, NSW struggled in the set pieces against a Highlanders side that produced the potent mixture of efficiency and creativity that has earned them nine-straight wins.

"We struggled to get our set piece off the mark and that really hurt us," Hooper said.

"It's the same story, unfortunately, for us this week.

"Discipline killed us against a solid team like the Highlanders, who really took their opportunities well."

Down 10-0 after 17 minutes, the Waratahs produced some sparkling passages of play to hit the front by the break.

Fullback Israel Folau crossed after beating flanker Elliot Dixon with some quality footwork.

Winger Taqele Naiyaravoro pounced on a superb cut-out pass from Phipps to crash his way over for a try just before the break, with the conversion to five-eighth Foley giving the Tahs the halftime lead.

Highlanders captain Ben Smith said his team recognised they needed to lift the tempo after halftime, but conceded Mumm's absence helped his team's cause.

"I think we got momentum then and we managed to score from that lineout and things changed from there," Smith said.

The Highlanders quickly regained the lead through hooker Liam Coltman after a forward drive from the penalty awarded after Mumm was binned.

Winger Tevita Li won the chase to a delightful chip from centre Malakai Fekitoa to expand the Highlanders' lead before Mumm returned.

Rob Thompson added a try after the Waratahs were back to 15 men, as the Highlanders sprinted to a 30-14 advantage.

A converted try to replacement halfback Jake Gordon cut the deficit to nine points and lifted the Tahs in their push for a bonus point.

Those were quickly extinguished with Daniel Lienert-Brown and Lima Sopoaga touching down for the home team, before Gordon scampered away after taking a quick tap to notch his second five-pointer of the game.