The Cheetahs made the Bulls pay for poor discipline on Friday night, but a late surge by the visitors resulted in a narrow 19-17 victory for the hosts in their Super Rugby Unlocked clash in Bloemfontein.
Bulls hooker Joe van Zyl almost secured a draw with their only try, but the conversion was just missed by flyhalf Chris Smith.
The never-say-die attitude of the Bulls, however, despite a yellow card to lock Ruan Nortje, cut the Cheetahs’ 13-point lead, and in the late exchanges it was the Bulls who pushed the hardest.
Both teams suffered crucial early disruptions, with Bulls fullback Gio Aplon injuring knee ligaments before being replaced by Stedman Gans, and the Cheetahs losing captain Ruan Pienaar, who was replaced at scrumhalf by Tiaan Meyer.
Pienaar might be out for the season after picking up an MCL knee injury, which deprived the Cheetahs of one of their main decision-makers.
After the Cheetahs kept the Bulls pinned in their half in the first 40 minutes, the instruction clearly came from coach Jake White to focus more on their driving maul to pull in the ruthless Cheetahs defence.
But countless unforced errors aided the Cheetahs’ cause, keeping the scoreboard going as the Bulls were heavily penalised, which erased any sort of momentum.
The Bulls’ problems were compounded by crucial l eout errors, while in the collisions the Cheetahs didn’t hold back and grew stronger, while their scrum transferred the pressure onto the Bulls pack.
Though the play initially swung from one side of the field to the next, neither team could initially assert territorial advantage, but the Cheetahs gained momentum as the game progressed.
Cheetahs: Tries: Rosko Specman. Conversions: Tian Schoeman (1).
Penalties: Schoeman (4).
Bulls: Try: Joe van Zyl. Penalties: Morne Steyn (3), Chris Smith.
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