Two tries to one at Loftus
The Bulls got their campaign back on track and ended the Cheetahs' record-breaking winning streak when they edged them 26-20 in Pretoria on Saturday.
The Bulls, who moved into the top half of the standings and back into the play-off race, outscored the Cheetahs by two tries to one.
There is some consolation for the Cheetahs, as the losing bonus point they collected from the game saw them move into the top six on the standings - on 23 points, the same as the Bulls, but with one more win, which gives them the higher rankings on the table.
Coming back from a 6-9 half-time deficit the Bulls not only turned their game around after the break, but also ended a three-match losing run after their Australasian tour.
As captain Pierre Spies said in his post-match reaction, it was vital for them to get back in the winning column.
The Bulls brought an intensity to the game that was last seen when they played the Blues in Auckland a month ago.
The Cheetahs attempted to play the same high-paced ball in hand game, but found the Bulls' defence just too hot to handle.
While the Bulls enjoyed territorial advantage and also dominated possession, their skills let them down in the first quarter - allowing the Cheetahs to repel numerous raids on their 22.
The Cheetahs, in turn, wasted a number of their attacking opportunities with forward passes.
What did work for the Bulls was their scrums, with the Cheetahs' set piece under pressure from the outset.
After the break the Bulls showed a bit more patience with ball in hand, forcing the Cheetahs into a few more errors than they made in the first half.
And when the Cheetahs did have time with ball in hand, the Bulls unveiled their efficiency on defence - not allowing the Cheetahs' dangerous runners much time and space.
Add to that veteran Morné Steyn's tactical appreciation and the Cheetahs were forced to play most of the game after the break from deep inside their half.
The Bulls started with a high intensity - not just reclaiming the kick-off, but charging to within metres of the Cheetahs' line before a foot in touch and then a free kick brought relief for the visitors. The Bulls had another charge at the line soon afterwards, with the referee ruling the ball was short - despite vehement protestations by Bulls captain Pierre Spies for him to go to the TMO.
In the sixth minute Lionel Mapoe was penalised for incorrect entry at a tackle situation and Burton Francis - from 45 metres out - opened the scoring, 3-0. A scrum penalty in the 25th minute gave Francis a second shot from 45 metres out and again he was on target - 6-0.
Just on the half-hour mark the Cheetahs went offside near their own 10-metre line and Morné Steyn had a shot from 40-odd metres out - opening his team's account, 3-6. And minutes later Pieter Labuschagne went offside near his 22 and Steyn levelled the scores, 6-all.
Three minutes before the break Francis had a shot from just inside his half after yet another breakdown penalty, again he did not disappoint - 9-6.
Francis had a late shot at goal, but it was well wide and the Cheetahs took that three-point lead into the half-time break.
The second half started with a brilliant individual try, with scrumhalf Jano Vermaak finding a gap near a ruck and exposing the Cheetahs' defence. Steyn made it 13-9 as the Bulls took the lead for the first time.
And almost from the restart the Bulls won a penalty just outside the Cheetahs 22, after they piled on the pressure and forced the error. Steyn made no mistake, 16-9.
A penalty against Deon Stegmann, marched 10 metres on, allowed Francis to pull three points back in the 50th minute - 12-16.
When Philip van der Walt tackled Pierre Spies without the ball in the 55th minute, Steyn restored his team's seven-point lead, 19-12.
Going into the final quarter Werner Kruger was penalised at a tackle, allowing Francis a chance to narrow the game once again. However, he had one of his rare misses.
The Bulls opted to play a very clever tactical game, driving the Cheetahs deep into their half and asking them to play from there - placing a long, blue wall of defenders in front of them.
The Cheetahs did eventually work their way upfield, forcing a penalty and then going for the try - Trevor Nyakane working his way over the line in the 73rd minute. Francis couldn't add the touchline conversion, leaving the game delicately poised at 19-17.
However, the Bulls' response was swift and brutal - Callie Visagie, in his first appearance for the Bulls, working his way over after a patient build-up when the home team reclaimed the ball from the restart. Steyn made it a nine-point game with just over three minutes regaining.
The Cheetahs were now playing for a losing bonus point and Francis kicked a penalty on the stroke of full-time to bring the visitors back to within six points - 26-20.
Man of the match: Piet van Zyl had an enormous workrate, especially on defence, with Pieter Labuschagne and Lodewyk de Jager standing up to the Bulls' powerful forward runners. Heinrich Brussow and Deon Stegmann almost had their own game, while Adriaan Strauss was involved in almost every movement - either on defence or attack. Trevor Nyakane had another huge game. Robert Ebersohn asked plenty of questions of the Bulls' defence and made some big tackles of his own. Jan Serfontein was the Bulls' most effective attacking weapon, while Morné Steyn showed his tactical appreciation - even though his performance was not flawless. There was a hard work by Pierre Spies, Juandré Kruger, Flip van der Merwe and Chiliboy Ralepelle. Jano Vermaak produced a lively burst early in the second half that gave the Bulls the momentum and in a game of such small margins it was always going to be one moment, or one play that would win it. And that play was Vermaak's try two minutes after the half-time break - it gave them a lead they never relinquished. For that moment of magic and his allround performance he wins our award.
For the Bulls:
Tries: Vermaak, Visagie
Cons: Steyn 2
Pens: Steyn 4
For the Cheetahs:
Pens: Francis 5
Bulls: 15 Jürgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Lionel Mapoe, 10 Morné Steyn, 9 Jano Vermaak, 8 Pierre Spies (captain), 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Juandré Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Frik Kirsten, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Morné Mellet.
Replacements: 16 Callie Visagie, 17 Werner Kruger, 18 Paul Willemse, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Rudi Paige, 21 Louis Fouché, 22 Ulrich Beyers.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Willie le Roux, 13 Johan Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Burton Francis, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk De Jager, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Rynhardt Landman, 19 Frans Viljoen, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 Ryno Benjamin.
Referee: Jason Jaftha (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Rasta Rasivhenge (South Africa), Sieg van Staden (South Africa)
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee (South Africa)