Bulls first five Morne Steyn kicked a crucial conversion two minutes from time to complete a stunning win over the Cheetahs yesterday.
The Bulls, defending champions, looked down and out after a first half of epic errors when they trailed 23-8 going into the final quarter. But late tries from flanker-lock Danie Rossouw and halfback Fourie du Preez turned the tide.
The latter's score tied the match in the 78th minute, leaving Steyn the chance to administer the last rites with his trusted right boot and the metronomic Springbok first five made no mistake.
"We should have finished them off," said Cheetahs captain Naas Olivier. "We put in a great performance but didn't win the game."
The Cheetahs, who lost their opening match against the Sharks last week, were dealt a blow when inspirational captain Juan Smith left the field in the second minute with a knee injury. However, Cheetahs first five Olivier put his side 3-0 ahead with a penalty before the Bulls scored the opening try through lock Bakkies Botha in the 17th minute.
Steyn made it 8-3 with a penalty but the Cheetahs responded from the kickoff when centre Andries Strauss ran 25m to dive over. Strauss ran a perfect line off replacement loose forward Ashley Johnson to split open the visiting defence.
The Cheetahs increased their lead to 10 points within two minutes of the restart when centre Robert Ebersohn crashed over after another telling break from Johnson and Olivier converted. Johnson capped an industrious performance when he crashed over from close range in the 48th minute to increase the lead to 15 points.
The Bulls upped the pace in the final quarter and were rewarded when Rossouw dotted down after a back-pedalling Cheetahs scrum produced a loose ball near their own line. Steyn converted to reduce the deficit to eight.
That came after Cheetahs No 8 Wilhelm Steenkamp was sin-binned for a 55th-minute yellow card. Steyn then upped the tension when his second penalty made it a five-point ball game before Du Preez levelled the scores with a try three minutes from time.
"It was an ugly win but we'll take that over nice losses," said captain Victor Matfield.
Cheetahs 23 (A. Strauss, R. Ebersohn, A. Johnson tries; N. Olivier 2 pens, 1 con); Bulls 25 (B. Botha, D. Rossouw, F. du Preez tries; M. Steyn 2 cons, 2 pens). HT: Cheetahs 11-8.