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Bruising Bulls battle to victory

Photosport

Saturday, March 24, 2007    Sportal.co.nz    Photosport

It was the Bulls' fifth win of the season, the Highlanders' first home loss, and it came after the Bulls dominated much of the match through their big forward pack.

Each side scored one try but first five-eighths Derrick Hougaard gave the Bulls the advantage with six goals, including five penalties, from seven attempts.

It was a disappointing result for the Highlanders who, after some staunch performances, had been scenting a place in the top four.

But they struggled in the set pieces, particularly in the first half and had few chances to unleash their backline.

Craig Newby and Clarke Dermody were standouts in the Highlanders forwards, and Jimmy Cowan in the backs, but the hosts spent too much of this game on the back foot.

There was nothing flashy about the Bulls but they played the game through their forwards and, while the Highlanders rallied strongly at the end, the South Africans' win was deserved.

"We were probably our own worst enemies," Highlanders captain Josh Blackie said moments after the match. "We got our own together in the last 15-20 minutes but it was too late."

It was the Bulls' third win on their Australasian tour and it moved them into third place in the competition.

The Highlanders attacked from the kick-off and, after strong runs from props Dermody and Chris King, the Bulls infringed and Evans kicked a handy penalty.

The Bulls turned down two shots at goal from penalties and mounted lineout drives but the Highlanders' defence was sound.

But, from the third penalty, Derrick Hougaard kicked for goal and landed a fine penalty from near touch to level the scores.

The Bulls continued to attack through their big pack but Cowan, the Highlanders halfback, showed his defensive prowess with a big tackle on opposite Fourie du Preez.

Fullback Glen Horton sparked the Highlanders with a clever, weaving run from a tap penalty and when the Bulls infringed at the ensuing ruck, Evans kicked his second penalty to make it 6-3.

The Bulls continued to dominate territory and, when the Highlanders attempted to slow down play inside their 22m, Hougaard kicked his second penalty, the ball glancing in off the upright, to make it 6-all.

The Bulls took the lead for the first time five minutes before halftime when, after they continued to mount pressure from their set pieces, Hougaard kicked his third penalty, from 40m.

Highlanders No 8 Ezra Taylor was penalised and yellow-carded for a swinging arm on Anton Leonard and Hougaard kicked his fourth penalty to give the Bulls a 12-6 lead at halftime.

The Bulls had had a mortgage on territory (67 percent) and possession (54 percent) and, but for their lack of imagination on attack and the Highlanders' stout defence, they would have been ahead by more.

The Highlanders had been under pressure at scrums and lineouts and, apart from the spasmodic breakout - with Horton especially prominent, they had been confined to their own half.

All Black hooker Anton Oliver replaced Jason MacDonald at halftime and, coincidental or not, there was an immediate increase in urgency and scrummaging by the Highlanders.

The Highlanders attacked strongly and, had wing Loakimo Mulipola timed his pass correctly, they could have scored their first try.

Taylor was sin-binned for a high tackle on Pedri Wanneburg after 12 minutes and, from 40m, Hougaard kicked his fifth penalty to increase the Bulls' lead to 15-6.

The Bulls finally scored the first try 19 minutes into the half when, from a five metre scrum, they moved the ball to the right, then back to the left where fullback Jaco van der Westhuyzen sprinted over in the Rose Stand corner after he was given the overlap. Hougaard converted splendidly from near touch to make it 22-6.

Alando Soakai replaced the errant Taylor when the Highlanders were restored to 15 players but they had little front-foot ball to work with.

The Highlanders lifted another gear as the game went into its final 10 minutes and, from a steady scrum, Cowan was driven out for a try which Evans converted to reduce the deficit to 13-22.

Cowan, who had been outstanding throughout, was substituted by Toby Morland after scoring his try.

Bulls captain Victor Matfield was sin-binned in the final minute but Evans missed the subsequent shot at goal which would have given the hosts a bonus point.

Bulls 22 (Jaco van der Westhuyzen try, Derrick Hougaard 1 con, 5 pen) Highlanders 13 (Jimmy Cowan try, Nick Evans 1 con, 2 pen)