A gutsy Waratahs effort has fallen just short at Brookvale Oval, with a last-gasp Highlanders penalty inflicting a 50-47 loss.
The margin blew out to as much as 22 in the 37th minute, as a sharp Highlanders side stacked with All Blacks started piled on four tries to one, but a second half burst put them in front.
In a seesawing final five minutes, the lead changed more times than it had in the rest of the game, but a penalty to Fletcher Smith put the Kiwis in front when the dust settled.
It took less than two minutes for the Highlanders to get the early edge, with Liam Squire finishing a Naholo break on the right edge, before the hulking winger set in motion an Aaron Smith try under the posts.
Waratahs winger Robinson took the primary kicking duties, even with Bernard Foley in the starting side, and had no shortage of shots either, booting seven from nine.
The Waratahs came back with a bit more bite after the first interval, Jones scoring in the 24th minute, after an attack sparked by captain Michael Hooper, a man who ignited most Waratahs’ opportunities.
Their positivity didn’t last long, with Highlanders fullback Ben Smith crossing in the 32nd minute to stretch out the margin.
It took until the shadows of half-time for the Waratahs to clinch their first try, a pushover through Tolu Latu, after a Hooper break, chase and tackle put them in attacking territory.
The Highlanders made mass changes at the major break, while the Waratahs stuck with much of their starting lineup, a move that opened the game up, though the Highlanders struck first in the second half..
Taqele Naiyaravoro added NSW’s third and the first of his two for the night, as the Waratahs chanced their arm more.
Rookie centre Irae Simone nabbed a highlight just on the second drinks break, slipping through the Highlanders defence, before Naiyaravoro added another, making the gap just three points, before Robinson’s penalty.
A Robinson regather and grubber ended in what looked like a forward pass, but former Sevens rep Con Foley finished it off, awarded the try, before the Highlanders hit back through Rob Thompson.
Smith took their only penalty shot of the night after full-time and slotted it with ease, to give the Highlanders the win.
Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson their review would focus on the issues of their first half, rather than their second half wind.
“We turned around and we had that wind,” he said.
“The energy was a lot better (in the second half) so it highlighted what we wanted to get out of it. The defensive coaches for both teams will be pretty disappointed, you conceded 50 points.”
The Waratahs cycled through their full complement of halfbacks, with Israel Folau shifting to fullback in the back end of the game as David Horwitz slotted into 12 and Simone moved out.
Foley, Jack Dempsey (achilles) and Andrew Kellaway (shoulder) were the only injury substitutions for the Waratahs, though Gibson didn’t think they were severe.
The Highlanders will be sweating on injuries to Luke Whitelock and replacement Dillon Hunt.
Tries: Naiyaravoro 2, Jones, Latu, Simone, Foley, Cons: Robinson 4 Pens: Robinson 3
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Tries: B Smith 2, A Smith, Squire, Naholo, Hammington, Thompson Cons: Sopoaga 4, F Smith Pens: Smith