Highlanders bounce back to down Bulls
Grant Hattingh (R) of the Bulls gets a pass away as he is tackled by Gareth Evans of the Highlanders during a Super 15 Rugby Union match between at Forsyth Bar Stadium in Dunedin on April 11, 2014 - by Marty Melville
The Bulls, coming off a loss to the Wellington Hurricanes last week, led 13-3 after half an hour but then conceded three straight tries, effectively putting the game out of reach.
It ended three tries to two, taking the Bulls' dismal record against the Highlanders on New Zealand soil to one win in nine attempts, with their only success back in 2007.
They had chances but let themselves down with a string of basic handling errors, neutralising their most potent attacking weapon, the lineout drive, which the Highlanders repelled eight consecutive times late in the game.
Highlanders skipper Ben Smith said he was pleased with the "ticker" his players showed to string together their first back-to-back wins of the season.
"We really defended our line well," he said. "We've got a bit of belief, I'm really proud of the boys."
The Bulls made a strong start and dominated possession, led by centre Jan Serfontein with his powerful line breaks.
Prop Kruger Werner, celebrating his 100th Super Rugby match, was also instrumental as the Bulls built pressure through the forwards.
They had to settle for two penalties as the Highlanders' defence held firm until midway through the first half, when Piet van Zyl's quick chip from the base of a scrum set up winger Bjorn Basson for a try between the posts.
The Highlanders hit back against the run of play with a cleverly worked lineout where the ball was sent beyond the leaping players to Shaun Treeby.
His pass found Lima Sopoaga, who forced his way across the line before converting his own try.
Sopoaga then potted a penalty to make it 13-all at half time.
The Highlanders maintained momentum after the break when Malakai Fekitoa sidestepped three defenders and offloaded to Gareth Evans for a five-pointer.
Fekitoa, 21, an off-season signing from the Auckland Blues, left the Bulls defence flat-footed again 10 minutes later to score his own try after a break from Sopoaga set him up, taking the lead to 27-13.
The Bulls were relentless in attack during the final stages but were frustrated by a combination of courageous Highlanders defence and their own mistakes.
They scored a consolation try, salvaging a bonus point in the process, in the last minute when their lineout drive finally clicked and Marcel van der Merwe crossed the line.