March 28, 2009
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A rampaging Otago Highlanders forward pack ended the Northern Bulls' unbeaten run in a surprise 36-12 Super 14 victory here Saturday.

Led by a superb performance from hardworking All Black flanker Adam Thomson, the Highlanders pack outplayed their more fancied opponents at the breakdown to set up a five tries to two victory over the previous Super 14 pacesetters.

The Highlanders had only won two of their first six matches but have been fast improvers and their pack refused to take a backward step against the fancied Bulls forwards.

The most telling statistic was the 13 breakdown turnovers the Highlanders pack won compared to the Bulls' three.

"These boys (the Bulls) are known to be big bullies and boss you around the field -- and our boys were up for that," Highlanders captain Jimmy Cowan said afterwards.

"We were a competitive lot at the breakdown tonight."

Cowan also played a vital role in marshalling the backs and flyhalf Matthew Berquist contributed 16 points through a try, four conversions and a penalty.

Playing outside their home territory in the North Island city of Palmerston North, the southern side ran in three first half tries to lead 21-5 at the break.

All three of the Highlanders' first half tries capped a series of phases where they held possession and gradually ground their way into Bulls territory.

Centre Jason Shoemark was the first to go over in the 15th minute, finding space after throwing a big dummy pass, followed by inside centre Daniel Bowden and Cowan.

The Bulls scored their solitary first half try after some clever work by halfback Fourie du Preez to catch the Highlanders napping with a quick tap free kick, passing to winger Gerhard van den Heever to go over before the defence realised what was happening.

The Highlanders stretched their lead to a nearly impregnable 31-5 within 11 minutes of the start of the second spell thanks to a converted try and penalty by Berquist.

Bulls' flyhalf Morne Steyn kept the visitors' fading hopes flickering with a 57th minute try, capitalising on a rare dominant passage of play from his forward pack.

But Highlanders fullback Israel Dagg had the last word, capping another fine performance to burrow over the Bulls line in the 76th minute.

AFP

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