Rugby: Hairy moments for Highlanders coach

By Steve Hepburn

Mike Delany charges the Bulls defence. Photo / Getty Images
Mike Delany charges the Bulls defence. Photo / Getty Images

Highlanders 16
Bulls 11

Highlanders Jamie Joseph has been complaining about getting a few more grey hairs, thanks to the Highlanders' close games.

He'd better make an appointment with the hairdresser this week as the Highlanders went down right to the wire yet again before beating the Bulls 16-11 at Forsyth Barr Stadium last night.

The game was tight throughout, with neither team gaining ascendancy as defence dominated and it became a real tussle. However, the Highlanders made a couple of key plays at the right time - none more so than replacement flanker Scott Fuglistaller grabbing a turnover in the 80th minute to finally put the Bulls away.

The Highlanders deserved to win as they were more intent on attack. The Bulls were content to back their defence and their kicking game.

It nearly got them home but the Highlanders showed just enough desperation to come away winners. That urgency won the game, as they scored 10 points midway through the second half, when they camped in the Bulls red zone and banged away relentlessly.

Down one man thanks to persistent offending, the Bulls spread across the field and put all their eggs in their defensive basket. Highlanders lock Jarrad Hoeata tried to barge across the line but, after some long looks at the television screen, the officials decided he did not score.

But they could not stop him from the resulting scrum. The Highlanders set up three quick rucks and then Hoeata just threw his body over the line and put his side ahead for the first time in the match. Delany knocked over the conversion for a seven point lead.

Delany then put his side 10 points ahead with just over 10 minutes left with a penalty - spurring the Bulls finally to show they had an attacking game. They mounted their own barging surges at the line but prop Dean Greyling dropped the ball in the process of scoring a try.

But they too came again - and replacement hooker Willie Wepener went over to keep his side in the contest. The conversion crucially missed, giving the Highlanders a five point lead going into the last five minutes.

It was high tension at the end as the Highlanders gave away a couple of penalties and the Bulls surged on to attack. But No 8 Nasi Manu, who had kept working all night, won a turnover penalty and the Highlanders looked home although Fuglistaller had to do the business to give his new team the victory.

Manu was again good for the victors as was fullback Ben Smith while winger Hosea Gear got through plenty of work. Best for the Bulls was lock Flip van der Merwe, and halfback Francois Hougaard did little wrong.

The first half was one of plenty endeavour from the home team, though with little to show for it. Morne Steyn, who was playing his 100th game for the Bulls at this level, opened the scoring with a straightforward penalty after 13 minutes, although he did miss an easier one after just four minutes.

The Highlanders attempted to run the ball at every opportunity but the last pass did not stick when it mattered, and the Bulls defence was rock solid.

The Bulls were winning the set piece battle with ease and the Highlanders' lineout was messy. The home side turned down an easy penalty attempt after quarter of an hour, but finally got on the board after 26 minutes with a Delany penalty. Steyn though put his side ahead at the break, with a simple penalty three minutes from the break.

It became a question of who would blink first as the second half continued in stalemate - until that vital 10 minutes got the Highlanders ahead.

Highlanders 16 (J. Hoeata try; M. Delany con, 3 pens), Bulls 11 (W. Wepener try; M. Steyn 2 pens). Halftime: 6-3 Bulls.

- Herald on Sunday

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