The Highlanders horror season continued overnight as the Bulls notched up a comfortable 35-18 win at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria. The Highlanders struggled to gain much momentum throughout the match, as the game became largely dominated by penalties. Late tries to the Southerners bought the score closer, although their fate had largely been settled inside the first half.
The Bulls hit the board early thanks to a JJ Engelbrecht try inside the opening two minutes, Morne Steyn adding the conversion to put the home side ahead 7-0, before Colin Slade closed the gap up through a penalty, just minutes later.
Slade bought the Highlanders within one point with another penalty in the 14th minute, before Steyn responded with three penalties of his own to give the Bulls a handy 16-6 lead, in a passage where both sides struggled to gain much control of the game.
The Highlanders looked set to score a try heading into halftime, showing promise on attack while stringing 12 phases of play together, before coughing the ball up in-sight of the posts. Veteran Bulls winger, Akona Ndungane raced away from the resulting play to score a controversial try, as the pass to him appeared to have travelled forward after Engelbrecht lost control of the ball. Both sides had come back to what they thought would be a scrum, however the try was confirmed by the TMO. Steyn added the conversion to give his side a comfortable 23-6 lead at halftime.
Highlanders head coach Jamie Joseph rang the changes at halftime, bringing on four fresh players in Liam Coltman, Jason Emery, TJ Ioane and Tony Woodcock in an effort to turn the game around, although a try early in the second half to Bulls captain Pierre Spies (celebrating his 100th Super Rugby appearance) virtually shut the visitors out of the match.
Poor discipline hurt the Highlanders in the second spell, with winger Tino Nemani and Chris King both receiving yellow cards, leaving the Southerners to battle with fourteen players over a 20 minute period. The Bulls went close to scoring, although ultimately could not make use of the player advantage.
Further changes were made by both sides, with Japanese halfback Fumiaki Tanaka injecting himself well into the game, helping himself to a try inside the final 10 minutes to help close the score. Hayden Parker, who had also come on to replace Slade, took over the kicking duties to convert Tanaka’s try.
Bulls replacement halfback, Jano Vermaak gave his side a bonus point when he raced away from the back of a maul to score their fourth try of the match, with just three minutes left to play. Tamati Ellison showed his strength when he went over for a consolation try after the fulltime siren, Parker missed the conversion attempt from out wide although it didn’t matter as the Bulls had already sealed the win, 35-18.
The Highlanders head to Perth next week (Saturday May 25) to take on the Western Force at nib Stadium, with their hopes now set on pulling themselves up from the bottom of the competition standings. Kickoff is set for 19:40 NZ time.
Bulls 35 (JJ Engelbrecht, Akona Ndungane, Pierre Spies, Jano Vermaak tries; Morne Steyn 3 con, 3 pen)
Highlanders 18 (Fumiaki Tanaka, Tamati Ellison tries; Colin Slade 2 pen, Hayden Parker con)
HT: 23-6

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