Fekitoa gets Highlanders home late in Pretoria

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Lynn McConnell     14 May 2017     Getty Images

Centre Malakai Fekitoa got scrambled ball after an initial pass to the backline went along the ground. He raced into a gap, fended off fullback Warrick Gelant's tackle and sped under the posts to break the 10-10 deadlock which had been in place since the 46th minute.


Two red cards in the 63rd and 71st minutes, both for shoulders into the face of opponents, firstly by Highlanders wing Waisake Naholo and secondly by Bulls lock R G Snyman had their effects, but ultimately it was that suffered by the Bulls that proved more costly.

Snyman had been a big influence in the Bulls' forward effort, along with flanker Ruan Steenkamp and No.8 Hanro Liebenberg, but after a lineout steal by the Highlanders from a Bulls penalty kick, the Highlanders set up Fekitoa's winning chance. Highlanders No.8 Gareth Evans, at the front of the lineout tapped the ball his side's way, it was tidied by lock Alex Ainley and then given to the backs.

Man of the match and Highlanders halfback Aaron Smith said: "It was a good, old slug fest. You don't expect those games in Africa, in the wet and the conditions but sometimes that's what rugby's about, about who can take the moments. That was a physical game. You always know when you've played the Bulls.

"It took everything today but it took us until about the 78th minute to get it today but full credit to the Bulls, it was hard conditions out there tonight."

Captain Ash Dixon said the conditions were trying and the ball was like a bar of soap but the team's belief in themselves had come through again.

"We've just got to keep getting better and better, we haven't put together a performance we are really proud of yet and we've still got a lot more in us," he said.

Played in wet conditions, with pools of water on parts of the hard-based ground, there was plenty of skidding ball resulting from downfield kicks. That resulted in several 22m drop outs from both sides and with the Highlanders defence denying the home side openings, the only try scored resulted from a well-weighted kick ahead by second five-eighths Richard Buckman.

He found land and the bounce favoured the fast following fullback Matt Faddes and he grasped the ball and headed the cover defence to score under the posts.

Replacement first five-eighths Fletcher Smith had only been on the field for a few minutes while Marty Banks was being treated for a blood bin injury. In that time he converted the try and landed a 40m penalty goal.

A mistake by Faddes in the 46th minute when coming across the goal-line in an attempt to secure a kick ahead by Bulls second five-eighths Burger Odendaal. He was unable to tidy the ball and as wing Patrick Osborne tried to recover it was toed ahead and fullback Warrick Gelant won the race to the touch down, although his lack of control in the grounding went unnoticed by match officials.

The Bulls mounted wave after wave of attacks through their big forward pack but the Highlanders' defence was up to the task while Smith was outstanding in working his pack and Banks put in some clever cross-kicks to try to pin the Bulls in their own 22m at times.

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