The Bulls survived a late Crusaders onslaught to triumph 32-20 on Saturday in a thrilling Super 15 clash of former champions.
The home team recovered from an early 10-point deficit to lead by 16 points with 10 minutes remaining before a vocal holiday crowd at the Loftus Versfeld fortress of the three-time title holders.
However, seven-time champions Crusaders hit back with wing Zac Guildford crossing for a try Dan Carter converted and replacement back Tom Taylor having another try disallowed before Tom Marshall raced in and Carter converted again.
That left just two points between the southern hemisphere provincial giants and as the hooter sounded for time, the Crusaders found themselves with the ball just inside their 22m line.
Retaining possession under fierce pressure and receiving two penalties, the visitors forced their way to the halfway line before surrendering possession and a relieved replacement scrumhalf Jano Vermaak booted the ball into touch.
The Bulls ended with only 40 percent possession in a match of three phases, but their superiority in the first 30 minutes of the second half reaped 23 points, with master goal-kicker Morne Steyn in top form.
Prop Dean Greyling scored the other four minutes into the second half as he collected a pass from flank C.J. Stander, sold a dummy any back would have been proud of and dived over for only his second Super 15 touchdown.
The Crusaders retained possession superbly throughout the first half and would not have been flattered by a bigger halftime lead than 13-9, but added just three points before their late scoring surge.
Star flyhalf Dan Carter, making his second start after a lengthy injury layoff that sidelined him during the triumphant All Blacks march to last year’s Rugby World Cup title, missed four kicks out of seven at goal.
He converted tries by skipper and eighth man Kieran Read, Guildford and Marshall, kicked a penalty and a drop goal, and replacement Tom Taylor succeeded with his one penalty attempt.
CHEETAHS 26, LIONS 5
AFP, BLOEMFONTEIN, South Africa
A burst of scoring in the first half set up a win for the Central Cheetahs against the Lions in their Super 15 match at Free State Stadium on Saturday.
The win gave the home team a six-point advantage on the log after a battle between the bottom teams in the South African conference.
It could prove a crucial difference as the team that finishes last could face relegation as a result of a decision by the South African Rugby Union to guarantee a place in next year’s competition to newcomers Southern Kings.
It took the Cheetahs 20 minutes to score the first points of the match, through a penalty by flyhalf Johan Goosen, but they then took control during a 15-minute period in which they added another 20 points to go into halftime 23-0 ahead.
The home team crossed the try line barely a minute after Goosen’s opening penalty when Lions wing Deon van Rensburg, under pressure, failed to find touch inside his own 22m line.
The Cheetahs spread the ball quickly across the field and center Robert Ebersohn skipped through for a try.
The Lions came out firing in the second half and dominated possession and territory.
However, their only reward was a try 15 minutes from the end by flank Cobus Grobbelaar following a break from a lineout by replacement scrumhalf Michael Bondesio.