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Fekitoa sparks Highlanders win over Bulls

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Update: 6:24AM Inspired by electric centre Malakai Fekitoa, the Highlanders overcame a 10-point deficit to beat the Bulls 27-20 in a lively mid-table Super Rugby match in Dunedin.

The teams were locked 13-13 at halftime before Fekitoa was the central figure in two tries which knocked the stuffing out of the South African side.

Maintaining an excellent home record against the Bulls - their only loss was in 2007 - the win is the Highlanders' fourth from seven games to keep their playoff hopes bubbling ahead of a bye next week and trip to South Africa.

The Bulls, winless in their last three games, suffered a fourth loss from eight games leading into next week's clash with the Waratahs in Sydney.

They were dominant in the opening half-hour, powering 13-3 ahead when two penalties to five-eighth Jacques-Louis Potgieter were followed by wing Bjorn Basson's try, gathering a superb chip from halfback Piet van Zyl.

Highlanders five-eighth Lima Sopoaga led the response before halftime with his second penalty and a try after following a bust by inside centre Shaun Treeby.

Tongan-born Fekitoa, 21, cemented his status as the Highlanders' find of the season, firstly with a crisp outside break to put flanker Gareth Evans over.

The Auckland midfield back then scored himself from broken play, scorching through the heart of the Bulls defence with seemingly nothing on offer.

Fekitoa, wing Patrick Osborne and fullback Ben Smith were key figures for the Highlanders, with their speed and ambition launching several counter-attacks.

A host of attacking lineout drives late in the game paid dividends for the Bulls, who sent reserve prop Marcel van der Merwe over to earn a bonus point.

The visitors paid for an escalating error rate in the second half, having been clinical through the early exchanges.

They had the better of the set pieces, winning three clean scrum tightheads, while veteran lock Victor Matfield won 14 lineouts himself.

The clash of veteran former international locks Matfield, 36, and Brad Thorn, 39, ended early in the second half when Thorn exited with an apparent shoulder injury.

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