Rosko Specman scored a hat-trick as the Vodacom Bulls beat the Highlanders 38-13 to claim their first victory of the 2020 season in emphatic style. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
They’ve done it. The Bulls have finally produced a good enough performance to get them over the line. It wasn’t all that pretty, but they showed their mettle when it mattered to get the job done and end their wretched start to the season.
It comes at just about the right time too, as the Bulls next embark a four-game tour of Australasia, where they will face the Reds, Waratahs, Hurricanes and Chiefs.
The first half of this encounter was tough to watch, both because of the inexplicable jersey clash and the uninspiring performances from either team. To say it was a tight tussle between two desperate sides would be an understatement. The Bulls had the Highlanders’ measure at scrum time, but they had nothing else going for them, even with Manie Libbok at flyhalf.
The Highlanders had the territorial advantage thanks to a superior kicking game. Their accurate kicking ensured the Highlanders played in the opposition’s half of the field, where they employed a more adventurous style of play as opposed to the conservative approach when they were in their own half. But much like the Bulls, there is just something horribly off with their attacking structures and their confidence is shot.
The Bulls made a couple of searing linebreaks, but it came to nothing as the ball-carrier was either isolated or lost the possession. At the other end, the Highlanders had no such qualms as centre Josh Ioane ran in an easy self-converted score in the 10th minute.
The match was marred by basic errors at crucial times, but the Bulls hit back in the one way they know how and that is with a monstrous driving maul try. Libbok skewed the conversion attempt before Ioane slotted a penalty for a 10-5 lead at the break.
It could have been worse for the Bulls as the Highlanders surged up field in search of a breakaway try, but flank Dillon Hunt was hauled in by Jonny Kotze, who tracked back in the nick of time to slap the ball out of Hunt’s hand to force a knock on.
In a complete 180 turnaround, the Bulls played what was arguably their best 40 minutes of action so far this season. They changed to their predominately white away jersey to avoid further confusion and took control of the clash by literally scrumming the visitors off their feet and into the ground, and running them ragged too.
Warrick Gelant scored to get the hosts within one, but the actual domination started when the Bulls won a tighthead on the Highlanders feed at a scrum in midfield. They claimed possession and built up ahead of steam with a 14-phase attack before Specman slid over. It wasn’t long before the dreadlocked winger crossed for tries number two and three.
The rout was complete in the last minute when Cornal Hendricks scuttled away to score a fortuitous try, much to the delight of his teammates and the Loftus crowd.
Bulls – Tries: Jaco Visagie, Warrick Gelant, Rosko Specman (3), Cornal Hendricks. Conversions: Manie Libbok (3), Morne Steyn.
Highlanders – Try: Josh Ioane. Conversion: Ioane. Penalties: Ioane (2).
Bulls – 15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Nafi Tuitavake, 12 Johnny Kotze, 11 Rosko Specman, 10 Manie Libbok, 9 Embrose Papier, 8 Muller Uys, 7 Josh Strauss, 6 Marco van Staden, 5 Ruan Nortje, 4 Ian Groenewald, 3 Trevor Nyakane (c), 2 Jaco Visagie, 1 Lizo Gqoboka.
Subs: 16 Corniel Els, 17 Gerhard Steenekamp, 18 Wiehahn Herbst, 19 Ryno Pieterse, 20 Ruan Steenkamp, 21 Ivan van Zyl, 22 Morne Steyn, 23 Divan Rossouw.
Highlanders – 15 Michael Collins, 14 Josh McKay, 13 Ngane Punivai, 12 Josh Ioane, 11 Jona Nareki, 10 Mitch Hunt, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Marino Mikaele Tu’u, 7 Dillon Hunt, 6 Shannon Frizell, 5 Manaaki Selby-Rickit, 4 Jesse Parete, 3 Siate Tokolahi, 2 Liam Coltman, 1 Ayden Johnstone.
Subs: 16 Ash Dixon, 17 Daniel Lienert-Brown, 18 Jeff Thwaites, 19 Jack Whetton, 20 Teariki Ben-Nicholas, 21 Kayne Hammington, 22 Teihorangi Walden, 23 Tima Fainga’anuku.
Photo: Aaron Gordon/Gallo Images