Pretoria – The Bulls beat the Chiefs 33-27 in a top-of-the-log Super 14 clash at Loftus on Saturday in an enthralling match that see-sawed throughout.
However, they failed to score a try in the second half which would have given them a vital bonus point.
The win moves the Bulls (33 log points) to second spot on the log - one shy of new log leaders Hurricanes (34) who beat the Brumbies 56-7 earlier on Saturday to take over from the Chiefs (now on 32).
The weekend's matches see the Sharks, who had a bye, drop to fourth place on the log with their 31 points - a single point ahead of the Blues - in a close race for semi-final berths and the right to play at home for the four who do advance to the play-offs.
The Bulls played some of their best rugby of the season in the first half.
They scored three good tries, showed good discipline, and varied their game well. Their scrum looked better than before their Australasian tour, and they stole a number of the Chiefs' lineout balls.
They were also better at the breakdown, and were good value for their 27-20 lead at halftime - which should have been bigger had it not been for two Chiefs tries that should not have been scored.
Another soft Chiefs try late in the second half put them back into contention, but the Bulls had most of the play in the final five minutes with the Chiefs struggling to keep them out.
Bulls flyhalf Morne Steyn, who slotted all three of his conversion attempts and three penalties, scored 18 points with a drop added to his tally.
It was a case of one for you and one for me as the sides virtually took turns to score in the first half.
The Chiefs took the lead after eight minutes, somewhat against the run of play, when flyhalf Stephen Donald slotted after a Bulls scrum infringement.
The Bulls went ahead 7-3 after a good ruck with a pop pass sending Derick Kuun over for Morne Steyn to convert and break his 100 points for the season.
Four minutes later it was the turn of No 8 Sione Lauake to put the Chiefs ahead with a converted try before Steyn replied two minutes later with a well set-up and well-taken drop goal. It was 10-all after 16 minutes with the Bulls having slightly the better of the play.
They turned over a ruck or two, kicked well and looked full of running, with Pierre Spies and Wynand Olivier in particular looking dangerous. They deservedly but somewhat fortuitously took the lead when Kuun, seemingly in an off-side position, intercepted from a ruck to run 54 meters (17-10).
Then a penalty by Donald three minutes later and then a converted try from 50 metres out by Chiefs centre Callum Bruce when the Bulls were caught napping after a free kick saw the visitors draw square at 20-all on 37 minutes - even being a man down after a high tackle by Lauaki for which he was yellow-carded six minutes earlier.
The Bulls, however, had the last say in the half as they rebuilt, went through a phase or three and then sent it wide where Olivier, in the form of his life, dummied to score. Steyn put the home side 27-20 ahead at the break.
Steyn increased the lead with his fifth successful kick from five attempts (30-20) shortly after the restart and repeated it seven minutes later (33-20), the first for an off-side offence and then for playing a Bulls player in the lineout.
The Bulls seemed home and dry with 32 minutes to play. Chiefs centre Richard Kahui, who threatened all afternoon but seldom had good enough possession, then ran the perfect angle to beat a lunging Jaco Pretorius on his inside.
He scored under the posts and with 17 minutes remaining the Chiefs were back in the scrap to lead the log after this round.
Bulls: Tries - Derick Kuun (2), Wynand Olivier. Conversions - Morne Steyn (3). Penalties - Steyn (3). Drop goal - Steyn
Chiefs: Tries - Sione Lauaki, Callum Bruce, Richard Kahui. Conversions -Stephen Donald (3). Penalties - Donald (2)