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Waratahs eye finals after big win

Tom Carter_

Hat-trick hero: Tom Carter of the Waratahs celebrates scoring a try during the round 17 Super Rugby match between the Waratahs and the Highlanders at the Sydney Football Stadium.
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THE Waratahs threw the Highlanders into a defensive “washing machine” and walked away with their finals chances still alive after a crucial bonus-point victory at the SFS.

On a wet and slippery night, the Waratahs ensured they will head into the last week of the regular season with everything to play for after scoring a hard-fought five tries-to-one victory over the Highlanders.

Fullback Kurtley Beale was spectacular in his farewell match for NSW at the SFS.

However, the man of the hour was no-frills centre Tom Carter, who bagged a hat-trick of tries in a typically fiery performance to secure five valuable points for the home team.

Leading 19-7 at halftime, the Tahs were forced to defend for most of the second half before Carter scored his third try with just seven minutes left to grab the crucial bonus point. Reserve Josh Holmes snatched a sealer five minutes later to thrill the crowd in the rain.

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But the night wasn’t all smiles, with the impressive return of number Wycliff Palu marred by another injury, this time to his shoulder.

Palu will have scans today.

And Berrick Barnes’ future remains clouded after he was forced to leave the field in the first half after feeling sick due to his concerning condition of “footballers migraine”.

Results overnight in South Africa were due to finalise the top-six picture, but the Waratahs delivered a warning to the top sides that they will be a true wildcard in the finals should they get through.

Despite being forced to make a huge number of tackles as the bonus-point seeking Highlanders dominated possession and territory, the Tahs were resolute. Scrambling and front-on, they refused to let the Kiwi side over their line and relented only once.

Palu and Tatafu Polota-Nau were brutal, and Highlanders skipper Jamie Mackintosh said it felt like they’d been “caught in a washing machine”.

“From a coaching point of view, when you are trying to measure the character of the team, you really look at what they do in defence and when they’re under pressure. Players kept getting up and knocking them over,” Waratahs coach Chris Hickey said.

“To hold them to one try was a special effort.”

Having struggled to convert their own opportunities into tries throughout the year, the Waratahs botched several chances early in the slippery conditions.

But up stepped Beale.

In his last SFS outing in blue after five years, Beale showed NSW fans what they will miss next year by laying on the first two tries with scintillating counter-attacking runs.

The first he grubbered through for Carter’s opener, and the second to Dave Dennis involved another grubber and good hands from Burgess and Polota-Nau.

Jason Rutledge replied for the Kiwis, but a second from Carter – and then a third after a 30-minute stint of trench warfare – sealed it.

“Tommy is one of the most undervalued players in the competition. The workrate he puts in every week is absolutely outstanding. It was a just reward tonight for him to get over the line because a lot of the work he does every week gets other people over the line,” Hickey said.

There will be no bragging from Carter, though. “We made very clear when we get to the huddle after the game all five tries were very good team tries. We made it quite clear it would stay that way,” joked captain Phil Waugh.

The Tahs remain confident that they can do some damage if they can roll through the finals.

“The psyche hasn’t changed. The expectations among the team is to get into the playoffs and perform once we get there,” Hickey said.

NSW WARATAHS 33 (Tom Carter 3, David Dennis, Josh Holmes tries Kurtley Beale 4 cons) bt HIGHLANDERS 7 (Jason Rutledge try Tony Brown con) at Sydney Football Stadium. Referee: Chris Pollock. Crowd: 13,474.

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