Pretoria – The Bulls went to the top of the Super 14 log when they scored their fourth try a minute from time for a bonus point 29-20 win over the Cheetahs at Loftus on Saturday.
It was a game full of movement from both sides, some great defence from the visitors and outstanding forward driving play from the Bulls.
The Bulls now move a point ahead of the Chiefs who relegated the previous log leaders, the Hurricanes, to third place.
The Bulls went into the match knowing they would jump to the top of the log with a bonus point win. However, their chances looked bleak when they still had only an Akona Ndungane try to show by half-time, and also trailed 15-10 at the break despite their dominance in the second quarter.
That first try was a gem. Bryan Habana, they have been saying lately, has lost pace. There are three Cheetahs defenders who would disagree. He gathered a poor Hennie Daniller kick on the halfway line and against the touchline.
It was clear within his first five determined metres: you won't stop me. He ran straight, onto the three defenders and then, at full speed, swerved to the inside to leave them stranded. Drawing the last man Habana sent fellow winger Ndungane over under the posts.
That brought the Bulls square at 7-all after a Cheetahs try in the first five minutes when scrumhalf Tewis de Bruyn scored against the posts for an early 7-0 lead.
Kicked a penalty
Then, after 15 minutes, the Bulls were standing around after an injury to Zane Kirchner when Meyer Bosman threw in quickly at a lineout for Hendro Scholtz to run all of 45 metres for a soft try in the corner (12-7). Naas Olivier stretched the lead to 15-7 after 22 minutes despite the Bulls having the most of the game.
And then it became all Bulls. With Scholtz sin-binned for a cynical and late tackle, their forwards took on the Cheetahs and drove them back from one ruck to the next. Good work on the ground by Heinrich Brussow and some unpunished but effective delaying of Bulls possession at the rucks kept the scoreline unchanged until Morne Steyn kicked a penalty on the half-time whistle for the Free State side to lead 15-10 at the break.
They went on where they had left off, but somehow contrived not to score and from another turnover after nine phases under the Cheetahs posts, the visitors took it wide to Jongi Nokwe.
And, as they say, there is no replacement for pace. He scored in the corner, and at 20-10 the Bulls were really up against it, although they still had 32 minutes to rectify matters.
That they did five minutes later after the Cheetahs had threatened with their backs, and this time it was the visitors who let the Bulls in for a soft try via Chiliboy Ralepelle (20-17).
Still the Cheetahs gave their all, and the Bulls were under great pressure when the visiting backs ran. But when the Bulls got relief from a kick from their own 22, Tewis de Bruyn was the third Cheetahs player sin-binned, this one for a spear tackle on Ndungane who had collected the deep kick.
The wing added insult to injury when, a minute later, Francois Hougaard kicked high, collected and put the Bok away for his second.
The Bulls had, after 66 minutes, taken the lead for the first time (22-20).
There were a few scary moments for the home side as the Cheetahs continued their running approach, but the Bulls regrouped well when the Cheetahs seemed to have enough players on the outside to retain their slender lead.
After another wave of forward attacks and with time running out, the Cheetahs at last got a ball to run with in their own 22 and it was Habana who pounced on a Bosman pass for another of his intercept tries and the crucial bonus point (29-20).
Bulls: Tries - Akona Ndungane (2), Chiliboy Ralepelle, Bryan Habana. Conversions - Morne Steyn (3). Penalty – Steyn.
Cheetahs: Tries - Tewis de Bruyn, Hendro Scholtz, Jongi Nokwe. Conversion - Naas Olivier. Penalty – Olivier.
Referee: Stuart Dickinson (AUS).