The Vodacom Bulls scored a 74th-minute try to steal a 24-24 draw with the Highlanders in Dunedin on Friday. DYLAN JACK reports.
In truth, this is a result that neither team would have wanted, as displayed by the willingness of both sides to play well beyond the 80-minute mark in search of a win.
While they would have wanted four points to end a draining Australasian tour on a high, the Bulls have ended up having to settle with just two for the second match in a row, after also drawing with the Blues last weekend. That is still enough to see them climb above the Lions, who host the Hurricanes on Saturday, into fifth place on the log.
The Bulls’ final fixture, against the Lions in Pretoria, could very well become a playoff for a playoff, especially if the Lions pull off a shock and beat the in-form Hurricanes.
While they did not start the game at their best – falling 12-0 down early in the first half – the Bulls deserve credit for staying in the game and showing up in the second period to end their three-match losing streak against the men from Dunedin.
The Highlanders made their intentions clear from the off, running the ball whenever possible and causing plenty of havoc through their outside backs. It was a horror error from Dylan Sage that resulted in the opening try as the centre lost control of a chip over the top from Aaron Smith, allowing fullback Josh McKay to go in for the first of his two tries.
There was a controversial call soon afterwards as referee Angus Gardner chalked off a try from Jason Jenkins after the TMO called his attention to a potential knock-on from Schalk Brits in the buildup. That soon became a double whammy as a counter-attack started by Tevita Li inside the Highlanders’ 22 eventually saw Waisake Naholo latch on to a kick over the top and score.
#SuperRugby – HALFTIME:
Highlanders 19-14 Bulls
— SuperSport🏏 (@SuperSportTV) June 7, 2019
The two sides then traded blows as Divan Rossouw cantered in for the visitors’ first try, before centre Rob Thompson slipped a couple of tackles to put McKay in for his brace. The Bulls finished the half strong when Burger Odendaal went close to the line before Jenkins finally got his try to make it 19-14 at the break.
While the Bulls started the second half well, they were again let down by some poor defending, as Naholo was able to dot down in the corner for his brace. While the game threatened to run away from the Bulls’ at that stage, Pollard kept the team in it with a penalty.
The defining moment came in the final 20 minutes with the Bulls camping near the Highlanders’ tryline, having their patience tested by multiple reset scrums and getting held up twice over the line. The try came as Pollard did excellently to free his hands through a tackle to get the ball to a rampaging Jaco Visagie before adding the conversion to draw the Bulls level.
Highlanders – Tries: Josh McKay (2), Waisake Naholo (2). Conversions: Josh Ioane (2).
Bulls – Tries: Divan Rossouw, Jason Jenkins, Jaco Visagie. Conversions: Handré Pollard (3). Penalty: Pollard
Highlanders – 15 Josh McKay, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Rob Thompson, 12 Sio Tomkinson, 11 Tevita Li, 10 Josh Ioane, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Luke Whitelock (c), 7 James Lentjes, 6 Liam Squire, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Jackson Hemopo, 3 Tyrel Lomax, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Sef Fa’agase, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Joshua Dickson, 20 Shannon Frizell, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Marty Banks, 23 Thomas Umaga-Jensen.
Bulls – 15 Divan Rossouw , 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Dylan Sage, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Johnny Kotze, 10 Handré Pollard (c) , 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Marco van Staden, 7 Hanro Liebenberg, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Schalk Brits, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Simphiwe Matanzima, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Jannes Kirsten, 20 Johan Grobbelaar, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Manie Libbok, 23 JT Jackson.
Photo: MARTY MELVILLE/AFP/Getty Images