The Bulls ended their four-match tour on Friday with one win, two draws and one defeat to post their best overseas tour to Australasia in a decade. It also kept their hopes of a play-off spot very much alive.
They drew 24-all in a most enjoyable albeit not always good match against the Highlanders in Dunedin. It was their second successive draw which took them to the top position of the four SA franchises.
A possible play-off is still on, although the Jaguares have secured first place in the SA Conference. The Bulls are currently fifth of the combined standings, but could be overtaken by the Lions and the Sharks this weekend.
The Bulls, who were 12-0 behind after 22 minutes, were never ahead in the match and were 24-14 behind after 53 minutes. Their equalising score came in the 75th minute.
The Highlanders match provided most of what is good in rugby. There were lots of running, few penalties, excellent scrummaging by both sides with the Bulls slightly ahead in this facet, and plenty of excitement for the supporters.
But, despite all these plusses, the rugby wasn’t always of the best quality. There were too many turnovers (44) conceded by both sides to call it a good match. Handling, too, wasn’t always pure.
In fact, the excitement reached its pinnacle in the last eight minutes after the Bulls had drawn level with five minutes remaining during which the two sides turned over possession six times in their continued running in efforts to win.
The last movement of the day went on for about five minutes with an uninterrupted passage of play, with the final whistle only bringing some player relief 3½ minutes after the hooter.
The Bulls were outplayed in the first half when they had only 34 percent of the possession and 30% territory. After the break, with the Highlanders 19-14 ahead, things changed around and the Bulls had 77% territorial advantage and 72% of the possession.
But what remains certain, is that the New Zealand sides still have the edge when it comes to creating opportunities compared to South African sides. That was underlined again, although poor defending by the Bulls played a role in making the homeside’s attacking breaks look good.
The decision to fly Handré Pollard back to New Zealand after he had returned to South Africa with an injury two weeks ago proved its worth. The pivot was everywhere on the field to defend from long Highlanders kicks upfield, cross-covered and tackled and also controlled the match outstandingly well.
And Springbok flanker, Marco van Staden, at No 8 on Friday, again played a blinder on attack and defence and especially at the rucks which were won quite convincingly by the Bulls.
Highlanders (19) 24: Tries: Josh McKay (2), Waisake Naholo (2). Conversions: Josh Ioane (2).
Bulls (14) 24: Tries: Divan Rossouw, Jason Jenkins, Jaco Visagie. Conversions: Handré Pollard (3). Penalty: Pollard