It was for a second week running that the Bulls found themselves on the wrong side of the scoreboard against a
But this time around they showed plenty of guts and passion before a match-winning try by All Black centre Malakai Fekitoa deflated what had been a spirited effort by the home side.
As much as the unusual autumn downpour and cold snap before kickoff helped level matters somewhat, it was a different Bulls team that came out to face the Highlanders and they showed it by containing the New Zealanders for the better part of the game.
At some point it was the Bulls who surprisingly dictated proceedings, but it was not in a positive way as they relegated this encounter into a kicking contest with over 50 kicks shared by both sides within the first half-hour.
But it was in the second half and with a one-man advantage – after Waisake Naholo was red-carded for a shoulder charge on Burger Odendaal – that the hosts look to take the game by the scruff of the neck.
On several occasions they came within inches of putting the points on the scoreboard when the sides were locked at 10-all.
However, in what can only be described as a moment of madness, lock RG Snyman charged into the ruck and his shoulder made contact with the face of Highlanders replacement hooker Greg Pleasants-Tate, with Bulls prop Coenraad van Vuuren crashing over the whitewash a phase later.
Snyman’s momentary disorientation in the red mist cost his team dearly as Van Vuuren’s try was disallowed, and the lanky second-rower was given his marching orders by referee Jaco van Heerden.
That meant both teams would finish the game with 14 players.
With that indiscretion by Snyman, the Bulls also lost some ascendancy in the game, and the visitors seemingly crept out of their shell and went for broke in the same way they overturned an 18-point deficit with four minutes remaining on the clock to emerge victorious against the Cheetahs last weekend in Bloemfontein.
While not as dramatic and heart-stopping, the Highlanders turned the tables on the Bulls and with one swift and direct offensive move, Fekitoa tore at the heart of the defence with some purposeful running and beat three tackles to score under the sticks.
That struck yet another fatal blow in what has been an already woeful season for the three-time champions.
Just like their compatriots the Crusaders, the Highlanders will walk away from their African safari with two successive wins, but it is what they leave behind on the highveld that will be of most concern to South Africans.
As competitive as the Bulls may have been in the set-pieces, the collision and in trying to unshackle themselves from the bondage of losing, they missed another golden opportunity of turning things around on the scoreboard.
“Obviously we are very disappointed to lose this one. We were on attack and thought we scored a try, but it wasn’t the case,” said Bulls coach Nollis Marais afterwards.
“But I’m very pleased with what I saw out there from a team that took 62 points a week before to come to within five minutes of winning a game.
“This is the youngest Bulls team to play in Super Rugby, and there is a lot to be hopeful about going forward.
“I told the guys before the game that there are two things that can happen – it is either we sit in the corner and allow everyone to kick us, or we could get up and fight. I thought we did the right thing and fought.”
Bulls 10 – Try: Warrick Gelant. Conversion: Tian Schoeman. Penalty: Tian Schoeman.
Highlanders 17 – Tries: Matt Faddes, Malakai Fekitoa. Conversions: Fletcher Smith (1), Marty Banks (1). Penalty: Smith (1).Independent Media