Highlanders 17 Bulls 10

When they pore over footage for highlights of Super Rugby 2017, they will gloss over this clash at Loftus.

It was uncharacteristically slippery and cold in Pretoria, and the rugby was equally uninspiring. But the Highlanders won another priceless victory, their eighth in nine matches, adding to the frustrations of the Blues, who need them to fall over at some point very soon if they are to leapfrog the southerners to claim the last Australasian wildcard berth for the playoffs.

The first half highlight was a pinpoint chip over the top by No 12 Richard Buckman which sat up nicely for fullback Matt Faddes to latch onto and slide between the uprights.

Otherwise there was far too much aimless kicking, with kicks going too far in the wet.


Halfback Aaron Smith, however, did come into his own, and his box kicking was on the money, a tactic that may come in useful in the midwinter conditions of late June and early July. His service was slick and he sniped when required. Fitting, then, that he was adjudged man of the match.

"That was a good old slugfest, but sometimes that's what rugby's about, taking those moments," said Smith.

Faddes, after taking his tryscoring opportunity with aplomb, then blotted his copybook by making a hash of cleaning up a grubber, allowing Bulls fullback Warrick Gelant to pounce.

The home pack then slowly gathered the initiative, and the odds looked good for a rare win over a New Zealand side when wing Waisake Naholo was red-carded for a high and late tackle. It was possibly a harsh call, and yellow may have been more appropriate as it looked to be a glancing blow, but players cannot allow themselves to be in those positions under the stricter rulings on high tackles.

Bulls lock RG Snyman followed Naholo into the early showers when shown red for a very dangerous cleanout of replacement hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate. That ruled out a try for the Bulls, and the game. Because just minutes later, Malakai Fekitoa burst to life, the centre slicing through from 50m out and beating several defenders for a superb solo effort, which should seal the All Blacks No 13 jersey for the Lions series.

The Highlanders travel to Perth to face the Force next Saturday, while the Bulls have a daunting trip to Johannesburg to face the Lions, who are firming as the top South African team.

Highlanders 17 (Matt Faddes, Malakai Fekitoa tries; Fletcher Smith con, pen, Marty Banks con) Bulls 10 (Warrick Gelant try; Tian Schoeman con, pen) HT: 10-3