Fullback Israel Folau scored his 12th try of the season as the New South Wales Waratahs beat the Highlanders 44-16 Sunday to clinch first place and a home semi-final in Super Rugby with a round to spare.
Folau ran off an inside pass from centre Kurtley Beale to score in the 42nd minute, boosting the Waratahs' confidence after they had taken a brittle 11-9 lead to halftime.
We said before the game we wanted it to be hard to choose a man of the match.
Winger Rob Horne, prop Sekope Kepu, scrumhalf Nick Phipps, lock Jacques Potgeiter and replacement Taqele Naiyaravoro also scored tries as the Waratahs claimed a bonus point, making their place atop the table unassailable with a franchise-record sixth-straight win.
The win gives the Waratahs a break in the first round of the playoffs, carrying them directly to the semi-finals, where they will host the lowest-ranked winner in week two of the playoffs.
Flyhalf Bernard Foley kicked 14 points (four conversions and two penalties) to surpass Peter Hewat's season record for the Waratahs of 184 points in 2006.
"We said before the game we wanted it to be hard to choose a man of the match," captain Michael Hooper said. "Everyone needs to be doing their job well and we did that tonight, six tries to one."
New Waratah's mantra
Hooper said the Waratahs had been so closely concentrating on each match, they were not aware until the game morning that they could clinch first place with a win. They did so by scoring their most-ever points in a match against the Highlanders, beating the 41 they posted in 2005.
The Highlanders will go into next weekend's last regular season round still in fourth place but now needing to beat the Crusaders to firm their chances of reaching the playoffs for the first time in 12 years.