March 22 2002

Highlanders in a different league.

The Highlanders were far too classy for the beleaguered Bulls at Loftus Versfeld last Saturday running in eight tries to three to maintain their charge towards the Super 12 playoffs.

Ryan Nicholas - MVP.

By Matt Brown at Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria

It was a clinical performance from Tame Randell’s side who came out firing from the opening whistle with punishing defence that forced the Bulls into turnovers. Coach Laurie Mains was delighted with the start, which set up the victory.

“We knew the Bulls wanted to run the ball and our defence for the first 15 minutes was outstanding to create those turnovers and keep them hemmed well inside their half.”

The Highlanders made the most of their limited possession, having only 40 percent of the ball but they defended superbly and turned counter attacking moves into points.

The outside backs were always dangerous. None more so than centre Ryan Nicholas who scored a hat trick of tries to earn the man of the match award. He bagged his first in the opening minute after the Bulls turned over he bail in their own 22.

It was suicidal stuff from the home side who tried to run the ball out from the shadows of their own posts on several occasions only to be stopped by punishing Highlanders defence.

Further touchdowns from Aisea Tuilevu, a second for Nicholas and a beauty for Paul Steinmetz had the visitors in front and out of sight at 25-0 after half an hour.

The Bulls did fight back towards the end of the half, but other than a Wylie Human score after a mistake by Tuilevu, they seldom threatened the Highlanders line.

The Bulls needed to score first after the break to have any chance, but Jeff Wilson scored soon after the restart to end any hopes of a revival from the home side.

The Bulls managed to claw their way back and offer their supporters a glimmer of hope during a 15-minute period midway through the second half. It resulted in two tries in quick succession through their captain Chris Le Roux and replacement hooker James Dalton.

But Highlanders coach Laurie Mains went to his bench as the effects of altitude took hold and the Highlanders finished the stronger of the two teams. Tony Brown settled things down with a penalty to extend the lead to 35-17 before Nicholas grabbed his third, while late tries from Walker and Steinmetz, with his second securing the Highlanders their biggest victory ever on South African soil.”

From “Rugby News”, Issue 5 2002 p. 34.

The teams.