Bulls captain Burger Odendaal tries to hand off Highlanders flyhalf Lima Sopoaga, who had the last laugh with a match-winning penalty in the final seconds. Photo: Christiaan Kotze/EPA

PRETORIA – Flyhalf Lima Sopoaga slotted a last-gasp penalty as the Highlanders claimed a thrilling 29-28 Super Rugby win over the Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday.

It was a missed opportunity for the Bulls. The home side dominated territory and possession throughout this clash, and looked to have snatched victory when Jesse Kriel scored a crucial try in the 75th minute.

However, the Highlanders worked their way back into the Bulls’ half late in the game, and won a penalty that Sopoaga slotted from a difficult angle to send the visitors into huge celebrations.

Although the Bulls can feel particularly unlucky, the Kiwi side must receive plenty of credit for their superb defensive display, which saw them have to make more than double the number of tackles compared to their opponents (122 to 60).

The Highlanders have become a team renowned for their ability to make the most of limited opportunities on attack, and they would open the scoring in that sort of fashion when Aaron Smith pounced on a loose ball to score after he had superbly followed up a kick ahead.

However, the Bulls gradually began to establish ascendancy at scrum time, while making regular use of their lineout drive.

For all their possession, the Bulls finally received reward when referee Glen Jackson had little option but to award a penalty try after Highlanders fullback Fletcher Smith had held back Warrick Gelant as he looked to set gather a loose ball and score.

That swung momentum in the Bulls’ favour, and on the half-hour mark, Handré Pollard snapped up an ill-timed pass and darted away to score under the posts.

The Bulls ultimately enjoyed as much as 81 percent of possession in the opening half, but the Highlanders’ defence was simply superb.

Besides thwarting one final attacking effort from the home side, the visitors would score the final points of the first stanza when Sopoaga popped over a penalty to reduce the deficit to just four points.

To add to the frustration of the Bulls, the Highlanders made the perfect start to proceedings in the second half as Sopoaga knocked over a penalty, before Fletcher Smith finished off an opportunistic try.

The Highlanders flyhalf struck his third penalty in the 53rd minute as the Kiwi side stretched their lead to nine points, but the Bulls importantly struck back just before the hour mark when Jason Jenkins dotted down.

In a dramatic final quarter, Kriel looked to have snatched victory for the Bulls late in the game, but Sopoaga stepped up in the 82nd minute to slot a decisive match-winning kick.

Points-Scorers

Bulls 28 – Tries: Penalty Try, Handré Pollard, Jason Jenkins, Jesse Kriel. Conversions: Pollard (3).

Highlanders 29 – Tries: Aaron Smith, Fletcher Smith. Conversions: Lima Sopoaga (2). Penalties: Sopoaga (5).

African News Agency (ANA)