The Highlanders managed to cling on for a tense 16-11 win over the tournament-leading Bulls in Dunedin on Saturday.
The Highlanders managed to cling on for a tense 16-11 Super Rugby win over the tournament-leading Bulls in Dunedin on Saturday.
Both sides crossed the whitewash for one try apiece, however the boot of Highlanders pivot Mike Delany proved to be the difference between the two sides in what was a real arm-wrestle at Forsyth Barr Stadium.
In a tight encounter, neither side were able to pull away from the other until the final quarter when lock Jarrad Hoeata powered over whilst the Bulls were reduced to 14 men by the sin-binning of prop Dean Greyling.
Hoeata's converted touchdown followed by another Delany penalty gave the home side some breathing space, however the Bulls hit back with a try of their own through replacement hooker Willie Wepener to set up a nail-biting finish.
The Bulls threw everything but the kitchen sink at their hosts, but were unable to crack the Highlanders' stubborn defence as the southerners held on for a crucial victory that keeps their play-off hopes alive.
The result is the second in a row for the Highlanders against the Bulls after they ended the Bulls' 19-match unbeaten record in Pretoria last year.
The Highlanders went for a high-paced and expansive game plan from the start, running the ball at every opportunity.
But they came up against a stout Bulls defence, while mistakes at key moments and their struggles at lineout time also halted their momentum.
The Bulls were happy to kick for territory or loft up-and-unders and went into the break 6-3 up on the back of two penalties to Morne Steyn in his 100th Super Rugby match.
Delaney's second penalty tied the scores, before the Highlanders pulled ahead with Hoeata's try. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Pens: Delany 3
Pens: Steyn 2
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith, 14 Siale Piutau, 13 Tamati Ellison, 12 Phil Burleigh, 11 Hosea Gear, 10 Mike Delany, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Nasi Manu, 7 Tim Boys, 6 Adam Thomson, 5 Nick Crosswell, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 3 Ma'afu Fia, 2 Jason Rutledge, 1 Jamie Mackintosh (c).
Replacements: 16 Andrew Hore, 17 Bronson Murray, 18 Hoani MacDonald/Josh Bekhuis, 19 Scott Fuglistaller, 20 Jimmy Cowan, 21 Chris Noakes, 22 Kenny Lynn.
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 MornÃ© Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 CJ Stander, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 JuandrÃ© Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis FouchÃ©, 22 JJ Engelbrecht.
Referee: Ian Smith (Australia)