Second-half rally seals the deal
The Bulls ended five winless weeks with a 26-21 come-from-behind victory over the Cheetahs in Pretoria on Saturday.
The Round 12 Super Rugby victory came after a murderous Australasian tour in which they went close every time - getting four losing bonus points - but just could not pull it off.
And Saturday at Loftus Versfeld it seemed they were set for more heartache, especially after the Cheetahs went into the half-time break 18-9 up - having scored two tries to none in the first 40 minutes.
However, the Bulls produced probably their best second half of the season to shut the Cheetahs out - scoring two tries of their own and limiting the Cheetahs to just a solitary second-half penalty.
The Cheetahs looked to play an expansive game and had some success - despite having limited possession in the first half.
However, the Bulls were again hamstrung by their inability to finish off the numerous opportunities they created.
The problem for the home team was that they were often too pedestrian. They could also bemoan a couple of dubious calls, but in the end they were indeed their own worst enemies.
After the break the men from Pretoria were a lot more clinical, especially when their gargantuan pack carried the ball and they slowly started to strangle the life out of the Cheetahs with their solid defensive lines - forcing the visitors into a kicking contest.
The scrums were a lottery, with the referee seemingly employing a a tit-for-tat penalty approach. The line-outs were obviously an area dominated by the Bulls, while the breakdowns were an almighty contest with no clear winner.
Handré Pollard and Elgar Watts exchanged early penalties, before Johan Sadie intercepted a pass deep inside his half - sprinting 80 metres for the opening try. The five-pointer may have come against the run of play, but the Bulls will know they were too pedestrian in their build-up, which allowed the Cheetahs centre to read the play.
It went from bad to worse when Handré Pollard was yellow carded in the 22nd minute, after tackling Sarel Pretorius inside the 10-metre zone after a quick-tap penalty. Watts slotted the penalty to make it 13-4 for the visitors.
The Bulls closed the gap to 6-13 just short of the half-hour mark, when Jurgen Visser kicked a penalty that came as a result of a breakdown transgression by Adriaan Strauss. And when Heinrich Brüssow was caught on the wrong side of a ruck, Pollard narrowed the gap to 9-13.
Raymond Rhule gave the Cheetahs a handy 18-9 lead right on the half-time hooter - the try came from a line-out move in which Willie le Roux drew a couple of defenders and Johan Sadie sprinter through a gap, before off-loading to $Rayno Benjamin, who in turn put Rhule over.
The conversion attempt was wide, but the Cheetahs took all the momentum with them into the break.
It was the home team that started the second half in a more positive note, their big forward not just getting them close, but also over the line - Paul Willemse the man who got the five-pointer after some fierce charges. Pollard's conversion made it a two-point game - 16-18.
Johan Goosen, coming on as a replacement, stretched the visitors' lead to 21-16 as the final quarter approached.
However, the Bulls forwards again showed their power, with Callie Visagie getting the next try - after a penalty was turned into a line-out and the Bulls took it through a couple of phases. Pollard's conversion gave the Bulls the lead - 23-21.
Goosen missed a penalty, before replacement Jacques-Louis Potgieter stretched the Bulls' lead to 26-21 with 13 minutes to go
The Cheetahs, try as they might, just could not find a way through the big blue wall that now blocked every route they took.
And the Bulls hung on for their first win since March.
Man of the match: Heinrich Brussow had another game that would have taken him a step closer to a Springbok recall. Willie le Roux caused panic in the Bulls' ranks every time he touched the ball - he popped up everywhere from scrumhalf to fullback, but was most effective when playing from second received. Handré Pollard is beginning to settle down in Super Rugby and could soon make the Bulls No.10 jersey his own. Jan Serfontein was looking good on attack and won a crucial penalty turnover right at the end when the Cheetahs were looking for a match-winning try. Victor Matfield influence on the game is there for all to see. Grant Hattingh is beginning to settle nicely into the No.8 role, especially in terms of his ball carries. However, our award goes to the most productive forward of the Bulls, prop Marcel van der Merwe, who got them the go-forward momentum every time he had the ball in hand.
For the Bulls:
Tries: Willemse, Visagie
Cons: Pollard 2
Pens: Pollard 2, Visser, JL Potgieter
For the Cheetahs:
Tries: Sadie, Rhule
Pens: Watts 2, Goosen
Yellow card: Handré Pollard (Bulls, 22 - professional foul, tackling a player before having retreated 10 metres at a penalty)
Bulls: 15 Jurgen Visser, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 William Small-Smith, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Grant Hattingh, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Jono Ross, 5 Victor Matfield (captain), 4 Paul Willemse, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Mbongeni Mbonambi, 17 Morné Mellett, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Jacques Engelbrecht, 20 Wimpie van der Walt, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 23 Johannes Engelbrecht.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Raymond Rhule, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Ryno Benjamin, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Johannes Prinsloo, 7 Jean Cook, 6 Heinrich Brussow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Andries Ferreira, 3 Nicolaas van Dyk, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Coenie Oosthuizen, 19 Rynhardt Landman, 20 Teboho Mohoje, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Johan Goosen, 23 Cornal Hendricks.
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa), Cobus Wessels (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)