Northern Bulls wing Bryan Habana scored an intercept try in the final moments to ensure a bonus point 29-20 victory over the Cheetahs in the Super 14.
The AFP reports that the five points earned allowed the Bulls, champions in 2007, to go top of the table with just one round of matches to go before the semi-finals.
The Bulls have 42 points and are followed by the Waikato Chiefs (41), the Wellington Hurricanes (39) and the Canterbury Crusaders (37).
It was a fiercely contested clash between two of South Africa’s biggest rivals, with the Bulls securing their win only late in the second half.
The Cheetahs, winners over the Coastal Sharks and Crusaders earlier in the season, had shocked their opponents with some hard tackling throughout the 80 minutes and it was they who led 15-10 at the break.
After surviving a furious early onslaught by the home side, the Cheetahs opened the scoring in the fifth minute when scrum-half Tewis de Bruyn took a quick-tap free kick and, after beating a number of defenders, placed the ball against the upright.
The television match official was called upon to rule whether the try was scored.
The answer was in the affirmative and the conversion by Naas Olivier made it 7-0 to the visitors.
Seven minutes later the Bulls finally got on to the scoreboard through wing Akona Ndungane, who crossed the tryline after being set up by Habana, who’d beat several defenders after launching a counter-attack from the halfway-line.
The conversion levelled the scores, but the home side were rocked again on the 16-minute mark.
A quick lineout throw on the halfway line by the Cheetahs resulted in Hendro Scholtz running in his team’s second try, but television replays showed the ball had been in touch.
Referee Stuart Dickinson, however, allowed the play to continue, much to the Bulls’ disgust.
The Cheetahs then added a further three points to their score with a penalty to lead 15-7, but that scoreline was reduced to just five points at half-time after Steyn converted a penalty for the Bulls.
It was a quite astonishing scoreline at the interval after the Bulls had dominated both the possession and territorial stakes in the opening 40 minutes, but outstanding defensive work by the Cheetahs saw them thwart a number of attacks by the Bulls.
The fans were further silenced after the resumption when Cheetahs wing Jongi Nokwe ran all of 80 metres to score for his team after the Bulls, who’d been on the attack, had coughed up possession metres from the visitors’ tryline.
But with a quarter of the match remaining, the Bulls had closed the gap to just three points after replacement hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle went over for a converted try.
Then with just 12 minutes to go, the Bulls went into the lead for the first time after the Cheetahs had been reduced to 14 players for the third time in the ill-tempered encounter.
Ndungane grabbed his second try, crossing in the right corner, after the visitors had failed to control a high kick by Steyn. Habana then scored his team’s fourth on the 80 minute mark, the conversion by Steyn sealing the win.
BULLS 29 (Akona Ndungane 2, Bryan Habana, Chilliboy Ralepelle tries Morne Steyn 3 cons pen)
CHEETAHS 20 (Tewis de Bruyn, Jongi Nokwe, Hendro Scholtz tries Naas Olivier con pen)