The Tahs have clinched first place with a round to go in the regular season, let that sink in for a minute.
If you had told me this would happen at the start of the season I would have asked which Kiwi and South African teams had recieved infraction notices from WADA. I was quietly confident that they could win the Australian conference, but to finish first requires consistancy. Something that Aussie teams, especially the Waratah's are not known for.
Yet here we are, today's dominant 44-16 victory made it six wins in a row as the Waratahs have rocketed past the Sharks and Brumbies who were early season favourites to finish first.
The beauty of playing on Sunday afternoon is that you know where you stand in regards to the rest of the competition. The Sharks capitulation to the Cheetahs overnight meant that the Tahs only needed to win on Sunday to guarantee top spot, no bonus points, just to win. Many other coaches would have changed the game plan to play safe, but not Michael Cheika.
The Tahs signalled their intent to attack early, with numerous quick breaks and constant pressure around the break down. They were rewarded with an early penalty goal and then shortly after Rob Horne crossed for the first try to take the score to 8-0 after just 12 minutes. Whilst they looked ready to run away with it early, some common sense prevailed and they played smart albeit probing rugby to lead 11-9 at half time.
Whilst the Tahs were the dominant team in the first half, the score board didn't reflect it, the Tahs came out determined to flex their muscle in the second half with Israel Folau crossing just after the break. Sekope Kepu soon followed him on the try scorers list, then Nick Phipps, then Jacques Potgeiter and then new recruit Taqele Naiyaravoro, who scored the final try.
Whilst the Waratahs backline were superb, make no mistake that this game was won by their forward pack. Sekope Kepu was my man of the match, Jacques Potgeiter was everywhere and Michael Hooper had a higher tackle count than a fisherman's store room. Quite simply the Tahs blew the Highlanders off the park.
This result may seem par for the course but it is important to remember that the Highlanders are currently in fourth position, it's not like the Tahs were playing easy beats like the Reds (god it's good being in first place.) The Highlanders have embarrassed numerous teams this year, but they could only break the Tahs defence once.
As always we take a look at five key talking points from the game:
1. Neymar: The only thing that stood out more than the Waratah's attack was Israel Folau's new hair style, apparently he was going for the Neymar look, although the talk is that he lost a bet. If it means results like this, then everyone in the squad should be rocking the 'Neymar.'
2. Jacques Potgeiter: I love this man. He's simply crazy and offers something that so few Aussie forwards do. He was great today.
3. Skeope Kepu: As I mentioned before, he was my man of the match. Scored a try, dominated the scrums and made some great runs. Will need him to be at his best in the finals.
4. Bernard Foley: Didn't star today but managed the game perfectly and was accurate with the boot. One of those great players who makes everyone around him better whilst still staying under the radar.
5. The Crowd: The Tahs haven't lost at home all year and with home ground advantage throughout the finals, the crowd is going to be incredibly important over the next month. We spoke at the start of the year about building a fortress, and they have.