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Highlanders beat blunder-Bulls

Fri, 11 Apr 2014 09:30
Highlanders-v-bulls
Scant consolation
Quote-end

The Highlanders held out in the face of a strong late charge from the Bulls to secure a 27-20 Super Rugby win in Dunedin on Friday.

It was a win based on guts, or as captain Ben Smith said: "Real ticker".

And it saw the Highlanders move past the Bulls on the standings and into the play-off zone.

The Highlanders can feel fortunate to have retained their full compliment of players on the field, given the cynical nature of some of the 16 penalties they conceded -  the majority of which came in the second half - and the number of times the referee warned them.

Perhaps the match official should have taken sterner action, but credit to the home team for pushing the envelope and finding the ref in a forgiving mood.

However, an objective view would be that the Bulls did not deserve to win, despite dominating possession and territory, simply because of their own sloppy play - 19 missed tackles (a success rate of just 77 percent) and the 22 turnovers the visitors conceded.

In the first quarter the Bulls won a number of penalties, based on their set-piece dominance, while they dominated possession and territory - spending 60 percent of the first quarter inside the Highlanders half.

They also caught the home team unawares with their expansive approach - the Highlanders expecting a slow, ponderous forwards-based approach.

However, once the Highlanders realised what the visitors were up too, the pulled a few tricks of their own out of the hat - including a great line-out move that produced a first-half try for them.

After the break the Bulls seemed to go into sleep-walking mode - slipping tackles at an alarming rate and poor handling compounding their woes.

It also didn't help that key players like Jono Ross, brought in as an openside flank, and Francois Hougaard, moved to the wing, had shocking games.

Even though the Bulls continued to dominate the set pieces, they let themselves down with some very sloppy handling - especially in butchering tries close to the Highlanders' line. In fact in the second half the Bulls coughed up the ball 15 times.

In contrast the passes stuck for the Highlanders, who enjoyed the high-paced game and seemed far more adept to playing a helter-skelter match.

They also found that by flooding the breakdown with numbers, they could disrupt and force the error-prone Bulls into conceding turnovers.

The Highlanders were made to pay for their early lack of discipline, with Jacques-Louis Potgieter kicking penalties in the second and 11th minutes for a 6-0 lead.

The Highlanders won a penalty that Lima Sopoaga turned into points, before the Bulls' expansive game produced the first try.

From a solid scrum just outside the Highlanders 22 Piet van Zyl broke down the blind, launched a sublime chip-kick - which Bjorn Basson collected from the air and sprinted over untouched. Potgieter added the extras - 13-3 after just 23 minutes.

The Highlanders caught the Bulls napping just past the half-hour mark - a line-out throw that went right over the top saw Shaun Treeby expose the Bulls' defensive line and when his pass came off a defender's hand, Sopoaga pounced to get the home team's first try.

The flyhalf added the conversion and a penalty - for offside - as the home team levelled the scores (13-all) after 36 minutes. That is how it stayed to the break.

After the break the Bulls defence let them down badly - slipped tackles gifting the Highlanders far more space and time than they would have liked.

The first try in the second half came after some aimless kicking, Jurgen Visser looking for touch on the angle and only found Patrick Osborne - who stepped Basson with ease. With the Highlanders on the front foot, the retreating defensive line was badly exposed through Malakai Fekitoa, who passed inside to Gareth Evans to stroll over untouched.

With the Bulls hands letting them down in a big way, the Highlanders launched a counter from deep, the broken field play allowed big Fekitoa to bust through some sloppy defence and score under the posts.

Sopoaga's two conversions made it 27-13 after 53 minutes.

The Bulls continued to look for tries, despite a string of penalties in kicking range, but they struggled to hold onto the ball long enough.

All they managed was a late consolation try through replacement prop Marcel van der Merwe - a strong charge from a line-out. Potgieter's conversion made the final score 27-20 and salvaged a losing bonus point for the visitors.

Man of the match: Piet van Zyl provided the spark behind the Bulls pack and Dean Greyling was a monster when carrying the ball. Perhaps the Bulls most productive player was Jacques du Plessis. Shaun Treeby was instrumental in the first try and Patrick Osborne had a solid second half after a slow start to the game. Lima Sopoaga dictated terms from flyhalf and Malakai Fekitoa also found a few holes in a leaky Bulls defence. However, our award goes to the player who made the biggest impact - Gareth Evans, who scored a crucial try early in the second half and played more like an openside flank than a traditional New Zealand No.6.

The scorers:

For the Highlanders:
Tries:
Sopoaga, Evans, Fekitoa
Cons: Sopoaga 3
Pens: Sopoaga 2

For the Bulls:
Tries:
Basson, M van der Merwe
Cons: Potgieter 2
Pens: Potgieter 2

Teams:

Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (captain), 14 Richard Buckman, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Shaun Treeby, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Elliot Dixon, 7 Shane Christie, 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Brad Thorn, 3 Chris King, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Kane Hames.
Replacements: 16 Ged Robinson, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Ma'afu Fia, 19 Jarrad Hoeata, 20 John Hardie, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Trent Renata, 23 Nasi Manu.

Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Bjorn Basson, 13 Johannes Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 Pieter van Zyl, 8 Grant Hattingh, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Phillip van der Merwe (captain), 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 17 Marcel van der Merwe, 18 Paul Willemse, 19 Morné Mellet, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21 Handré Pollard, 22 William Small-Smith, 23 Ulrich Beyers.

Referee: Rohan Hoffman (Australia)
Assistant referees: Kane McBride (New Zealand),Shane McDermott (New Zealand)
TMO: Vinny Munro (New Zealand)

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