Why Bulls can win in Dunedin
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Suffering is traditionally more common than success for South African Super Rugby teams in New Zealand ... but one domestic team is more “charitable” than most.
That outfit is the Highlanders, who entertain the Bulls in the first match of the latest round at enclosed Forsyth Barr Stadium in Dunedin on Friday (09:35 SA time).
They slightly buck the trend -- recent history shows they are more vulnerable at home than the other four NZ franchises to defeat by touring sides from our shores.
You have to go back as far as 2003 to find the last time the Highlanders did a clean sweep over SA sides visiting them.
On that occasion the Stormers and Bulls, neither of whom set the then-Super 12 alight that year (ending eighth and sixth respectively) were both knocked over.
Unexpected though it may seem, every single year since then the Highlanders have failed to repeat the trick, although they came close in 2005 when the Bulls were thumped 23-0 but the Capetonians stole a 16-16 draw.
Whether in the Super 12 or 14 format, where they would sometimes tackle three SA sides per season on the south island, or more recent conference system where it can only be two now in ordinary season, one of our teams has always grabbed a win or at least held (in the already stated case of the Stormers) the Otago outfit.
So when the Bulls take to the pitch at the modern facility on Friday, it should be with the knowledge that there is no special SA hoodoo to fear.
They will be the first of the two sides from South Africa to tackle the Highlanders in their own stronghold this year; the Lions play them on May 10 during their four-match Australasian mission.
With due respect to the Lions, who suffered a bit of a “correction” against the Crusaders at Ellis Park last weekend, three-times champions the Bulls must be considered the likelier of the two to continue the proud SA tradition of earning a win every season in the last eight years in New Zealand’s chilly deep south – whether it be in Dunedin or Invercargill.
The Cheetahs provided an example of how the Highlanders – currently 10th overall -- are less than invincible at home by beating them by a particularly comfortable 36-19 in the last-named town last year, even if the New Zealanders did see off the injury-jinxed Sharks 25-22.
The Bulls played the Highlanders at Loftus in 2013, and earned a four-try bonus point in a 35-18 victory.
They lost in their last visit to Otago in 2012 (16-11 after holding the lead at the interval) but the Stormers did the winning business from a South African point of view that year as they earned a 21-6 result in a game memorable for fullback Joe Pietersen’s inspirational solo try.
The Bulls do boast experience of beating the Highlanders away in reasonably recent times, during the 2007 season (22-13 at the old Dunedin venue of Carisbrook) when the Pretoria side won the title for the first time – Victor Matfield and Akona Ndungane, of the starting XV named for Friday, similarly were at their respective lock and wing berths on that occasion.
Tighthead prop Werner Kruger running out for his 100th Super Rugby game is another reason for the Bulls to be fired-up for a first win in their second overseas-leg game after the 25-20 setback against the Hurricanes.
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