Highlanders hang tough to beat the Bulls

NATHAN BURDON IN DUNEDIN
Last updated 19:25 19/05/2012
Ben Smith
Photosport
NO WAY THROUGH: Highlanders' fullback Ben Smith is held in the tackle.

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The Highlanders have kept their play-off hopes alive with a courageous win against the competition leading Bulls in Dunedin tonight.

Coming off a two-game losing streak, a second half try to Jarrad Hoeta proved the difference as the Highlanders wore down their big South African opposition in the second half to win 16-11.

The Bulls took a 6-3 lead into halftime with Morne Steyn, playing his 100th game for the South African franchise, landing two penalties after his first attempt cannoned off the uprights.

The Bulls weren't exactly enterprising through the first half, prepared to put any ball up in the air and sweat on mistakes from the Highlanders in front of a crowd of 14,967.

There were plenty of those, with the Highlanders struggling to handle the bomb and suffering from a malfunctioning lineout which coughed up four turnovers in the first spell.

Shovelling the ball wide, the Highlanders were struggling to make any inroads into the Bulls defence, which was solid for much of the half.

Mike Delany levelled the scores seven minutes after the break as the Highlanders started to create some half gaps.

The second half turned into a stalemate with neither side looking like putting together a try-scoring movement.

Bulls loosehead Dean Greyling paid the price for the Bulls tactics of slowing down Highlanders' ruck ball with 57 minutes gone when he was yellow carded by referee Ian Smith.

The Highlanders came desperately close to scoring when Jarrad Hoeta tried to crash over from a goal line ruck but he was deemed to have come up just short by the Television Match Official.

He wouldn't be denied just a minute later when he slammed his way over for a vital try.

Delany's conversion had the Highlanders ahead 13-6 with 14 minutes left on the clock and momentum had clearly swung the way of the home team when Delany added a penalty with 10 minutes left for a 10-point lead.

The Bulls had a golden opportunity when Greyling went over to score a try but had the ball knocked loose by Tamati Ellison but it was only a brief respite before replacement hooker Willem Wepener barrelled his way over.

Steyn's conversion hooked left to leave the visitors trailing by five with five minutes to play.

The Bulls attacked strongly in the closing minutes but they were held out by some stoic Highlanders defence and memorable turnovers from Nasi Manu and Scott Fuglistaller.

HIGHLANDERS 16 (Jarrad Hoeta try; Mike Delany 2 pen, con)

BULLS 11 (Willem Wepener try; Morne Steyn 2 pen)

HT: 3-6

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