Why The Highlanders Will Topple The Bulls This Weekend In Palmerston North

Jeff CheshireAnalyst IIMarch 25, 2009

DUNEDIN, NEW ZEALAND - MARCH 21:  Daniel Bowden of the Highlanders breaks through the tackle of Hendro Scholtz of the Cheetahs during the round six Super 14 match between the Highlanders and the Cheetahs at Carisbrook on March 21, 2009 in Dunedin, New Zealand.  (Photo by Martin Hunter/Getty Images)

So far this season the Bulls have been the team to beat in the Super 14. They have won all five of their games and have one of the most complete teams in the competition.

In contrast the Highlanders have had a season which can be summed up with one word, almost.

They have won two games, against the Crusaders and the Cheetahs, but have had three heart-breaking defeats at the hands of the Brumbies, the Hurricanes and the Chiefs.

In fact the only game they have played so far this season that they haven't really looked like winning was against the Waratahs. Why then should they be the team to topple the seemingly invincible Bulls?

Firstly to beat the Bulls you have to be competitive in the forwards. The Bulls forward pack is one of the biggest and one of the best in the competition. They certainly handled the Hurricanes pack alright last Friday when they won 19-14 in Wellington.

However, the Highlanders are renowned for their ruthless forwards and I believe that the Highlanders forward pack is one of the best in the competition and will give the Bulls a real challenge.

Their front row of Jamie Mackintosh, David Hall and Clint Newland has been superb this year, particularly in the scrum where they have dominated their opponents.

They have good talent in their locks with Tom Donnelly, Josh Bekhuis and Hayden Triggs all having excellent seasons and making the Highlanders line out a formidable force.
And lastly the loose forwards have been remarkably good.

George Nauopu and Stephen Setephano have been running very strongly as was shown on Saturday when Nauopu broke the line and off loaded to Setephano to score next to the posts.

Alando Soakai continues to be consistently playing well and Adam Thompson had simply been outstanding with his high work-rate.

Such a complete forward pack will certainly give the Highlanders a good shot at beating the Bulls. But the Highlanders pack isn't too dissimilar to last year and while they are crucial for the Highlanders to win, it has been the back line that has been the big improvement this year.

With Jimmy Cowan at half back they have one of the best in the world and he will certainly be a key role in the Highlanders chances.

Daniel Bowden has improved by leaps and bounds this season and has been one of the form five-eighths of the competition setting up numerous tries for himself and team mates showing a magnificent array of speed, vision, tactical kicking and passing. Bowden could well be the difference for the Highlanders.

In the midfield Johnny Leota has been hitting the ball hard and has added some real flare to the Highlaners backline which the Bulls will have to contain. And with in form winger Ben Smith and young star Israel Dagg they form a formidable back line.

If this back line continues playing how they have been it would surprise me if the Highlanders do not run in a few tries.

In saying all this the Bulls boast one of the most dangerous back lines in the competition. With players such as Bryan Habana, Akona Ndugane and Morne Steyn they are very difficult to contain.

The Highlanders would have as good defence as anyone in the competition however and the Bulls, like everyone else will find it hard to penetrate regardless of how slippery some of their players may be. In their last three performances the Highlanders have only conceded 22 points, which included keeping the Crusaders to nil.

Taking all this into account the game should then come down to how well the Bulls defend and whether the Highlanders can keep their composure on attack.

If the Highlanders can hold onto the ball and give their backs some good quality ball to run with, it would be very hard to go past picking the Highlanders to win this weekend.