Malakai Fekitoa scored a late try to give the Highlanders a 17-10 win over the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Highlanders have burgled another win. For the second week in succession, they have fired late to finish on the right side of the result.
They scored three late tries to surpass the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last week. On Saturday at Loftus Versfeld, Fekitoa smashed through the defence in the 76th minute to score the try that secured the win over the Bulls.
The Bulls had every opportunity to win this game. The wet conditions at Loftus served as a leveller. The Highlanders battled to control the slippery ball, and also failed to implement their kicking game to any telling effect.
The game was in the balance at half-time, with the Highlanders holding a slender 10-3 lead. The Bulls fought back thereafter, and Warrick Gelant's try as well as Tian Schoeman's conversion brought them level with the more fancied Kiwi side.
Schoeman missed a penalty attempt in the 53rd minute, and was taken off. The Bulls started to gather some momentum during this period. Unfortunately, poor decision-making and worse handling resulted in several missed chances.
Waisake Naholo was shown a red card in the 64th minute for his dangerous shoulder charge on Burger Odendaal. The Bulls should have taken advantage of this opportunity. They had the numerical advantage, and they had the opposition on the back foot.
But after winning a penalty under the posts, captain Hanro Liebenberg turned down a shot on goal in favour of a scrum. The Highlanders defenders held their ground, and the Bulls proceeded to lose possession.
Replacement prop Pierre Schoeman crossed the tryline in the 72nd minute for what appeared to be the game-winning try. The officials went back to check a foul-play incident, though, and TV footage confirmed that lock RG Snyman had made contact with the head of a Highlanders player at a preceding ruck.
The try was disallowed, and the Highlanders were handed a further boost. Snyman was shown a red card, and so the remaining eight minutes witnessed a 14-on-14 contest.
The Bulls missed several tackles in the lead up to Fekitoa's try. The Highlanders then did enough to keep the Bulls out and secure the win.
Bulls – Try: Warrick Gelant. Conversion: Tian Schoeman. Penalty: Schoeman.
Highlanders – Tries: Matt Faddes, Malakai Fekitoa. Conversions: Fletcher Smith, Marty Banks. Penalty: Fletcher Smith.
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Jade Stighling, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Burger Odendaal, 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Hanro Liebenberg (c), 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Ruan Steenkamp, 5 RG Snyman, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Edgar Marutlulle, 17 Pierre Schoeman, 18 Coenraad van Vuuren, 19 Lood de Jager, 20 Nic de Jager, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Tony Jantjies, 23 Jan Serfontein.
Highlanders – 15 Matt Faddes, 14 Waisake Naholo, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Richard Buckman, 11 Patrick Osborne, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Gareth Evans, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Tom Franklin, 5 Alex Ainley, 4 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 2 Ash Dixon (c), 1 Aki Seiuli.
Subs: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Siate Tokolahi, 19 Joe Wheeler, 20 Jackson Hemopo, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Fletcher Smith, 23 Teihorangi Walden.
Photo: Anne Laing/HM Images