The Western Force improved enormously but it wasn't quite enough to avoid a 36-26 loss to the powerful Bulls at Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria.
The Force lost narrowly to the Melbourne Rebels to start the Super Rugby season and then put in a poor performance to hand rookie side the Southern Kings victory in Port Elizabeth, but it was a vastly different team on Saturday night.
Coach Michael Foley brought experienced South African fly-half Sias Ebersohn into the line-up and he went on to kick two field goals, two penalties and two try conversions.
The Force seriously threatened the Bulls when leading 26-19 after a Toby Lynn try early in the second half, but the home side went on to score 17 straight points to end up with a four-try bonus point victory, the Force missing out on a point altogether.
It took just over a minute for the Bulls to make the perfect start when unlikely runner Morne Steyn, better known as a kicking machine, had no trouble carving through the non-existent Force defence to score the try.
The Force's kicking game was disastrous in their opening two losses, and the new game plan was quickly evident when Ebersohn nailed a drop goal at the 10-minute mark.
Both teams then traded penalties, including a 58-metre bomb by Ebersohn, with the Bulls leading 14-9 going into half-time.
An Ebersohn field goal for the Force started the second half before the Bulls scored another simple try, this time to winger Sampie Mastriet.
However, the Force weren't ready to throw in the towel and in the 46th minute levelled the scores at 19-19 through a converted try to Angus Cottrell.
The Bulls then surprisingly turned down an easy penalty goal to go for a lineout, but the Force defence created a turnover and from that Lynn went on to score his second career try in his 50th Super Rugby match.
When Ebersohn converted, the Force led a stunned Bulls outfit 26-19 but the home side powered home with a penalty and two late tries.