The defending champion Bulls remain undefeated in the Super 14 following their 50-35 victory over the Highlanders on Saturday.
The Bulls remain undefeated in the Super 14 following their 50-35 victory over the Highlanders on Saturday, which also leaves them on a fourteen-game winning streak at Loftus Versfeld.
Coming off a bye, the refreshed defending champions picked up where they left off in Round Three, by securing another bonus-point win after running in seven tries against their New Zealand opposition.
The writing was on the wall twelve minutes into the match thanks to three quick-fire tries to the Bulls that gave the home side a commanding 21-0 lead.
In the end, it proved to be the difference between the sides following a brave comeback from the Highlanders, who managed to leave Pretoria with a valuable bonus point thanks to some sterling work from Israel Dagg – the Highlanders full-back bagging a hat-trick for the visitors.
The home side dominated the set-pieces and breakdowns, stealing the Highlanders ball in the air battle regularly and contesting ruthlessly at the tackle points. With the battle up front won, the platform set for the Bulls back-line to run riot against the Kiwis.
The visitors were never favourites to upset the Bulls, especially at Loftus where the latter haven't lost since April 2008. But they did show an improvement from their scoreless performance against the Stormers last weekend. This saw the Highlanders have a strong start from the outset, but once settled the Bulls surged into a commanding lead.
And they wasted little time getting on the board, grabbing the opening score after six minutes when Morne Steyn's clever short pass to Danie Rossouw sent the big lock on a strong run, before Hougaard, Fourie du Preez and Zane Kirchner all combined to set up Gary Botha to dive in.
After adding the conversion, Steyn then set up the next with an excellent burst of pace through the middle that allowed Pierre Spies to pick up and send Hougaard over.
It was then 21-0 after 13 minutes thanks to a fine individual effort from winger Gerhard van den Heever, who was thrown the ball in his own 22 as he danced his way through the Highlanders' defence to run in on the right corner.
The momentum was briefly halted not long after when Dagg capitalised on a loose ball inside his own half and raced away to net the opening points for his side – Matthew Berquist making it a seven pointer with his conversion.
That proved only a blip for the home side as they then grabbed the bonus-point try after just 24 minutes – Kirchner's up-and-under not dealt with by Berquist allowing the Bulls forwards to move the ball out to Wynand Olivier for his fourth touchdown in four games.
Steyn missed the conversion, but Spies then grabbed his first try thanks to a strong run from Stephan Dippenaar.
Two minutes before the break, Dagg's perfect run along the line allowed him to take Sean Romans pass on the run for his second try, Berquist again converting, but a Steyn penalty on the stroke of half time put the hosts 36-14 ahead at the break.
It looked a different ball game after the restart with the Bulls seemingly going to sleep allowing the Highlanders to dominate play for the next 15 minutes.
They scored through Tim Boys – the try converted by Berquist – but should possibly have done more with the large amount of possession.
The gap was 15 at that stage, but the hosts showed their ruthlessness when a line-out ball worked excellently for Hougaard's diagonal run.
That seemed to seal the win and, despite further tries from Robbie Robinson and Dagg, Spies' late second made sure there was no chance of an upset.
Tries: Botha, Hougaard 2, Van den Heever, Olivier, Spies 2
Cons: Steyn 6
Tries: Dagg 3, Boys, Shoemark
Cons: Berquist 3, Dagg 2
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Stephan Dippenaar, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 MornÃ© Steyn, 9 Fourie du Preez, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Derick KuÃ¼n, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Gary Botha, 1 GurthrÃ¶ Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Flip van der Merwe, 19 Deon Stegmann, 20 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 21 Jaco van der Westhuyzen, 22 Pedrie Wannenburg.
Highlanders: 15 Israel Dagg, 14 Ben Smith, 13 Kenny Lynn, 12 Jason Shoemark, 11 Fetu'u Vainikolo, 10 Mat Berquist, 9 Sean Romans, 8 Steven Setephano, 7 Alando Soakai, 6 Tim Boys, 5 Tom Donnelly, 4 Josh Bekhuis, 3 Chris King, 2 Jason Macdonald, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Jason Rutledge, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Hayden Triggs, 19 John Hardie, 20 Scott Cowan, 21 Robbie Robinson, 22 James Paterson.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Pro Legoete (South Africa), Christie du Preez (South Africa)
Television match official: Johann Meuwesen (South Africa)