The Vodacom Bulls kept up their unbeaten record against the Toyota Cheetahs, winning a thrilling game 30-25 in Bloemfontein on Saturday night.
The victory set up the Bulls perfectly to win the South African conference, and with three games left in the Vodacom Super Rugby competition, they will go into the June break knowing they are on track to grab a home semifinal.
But on a night where the Bulls dominated everything beyond the scrum, their finishing was off-key and had they converted many of their chances they would have won a lot more comfortably.
They had to endure a late comeback from the home side, as two tries were awarded by TMO decisions to give the Cheetahs a bonus point at the end.
In the end it may benefit the Cheetahs who will back themselves away from home against any of the teams they will face if they make the playoffs.
If the Bulls have an Achilles heel at the moment it is their scrum. Two weeks in a row now they have been repeatedly penalised and on both occasions came close to losing a player to a yellow card, with referees issuing a verbal warning.
Scrum coach Wessel Roux has spoken about consistency, but unless they manage to rectify this, they may struggle in the business end of the competition, where the cost of getting it wrong may be too high.
But apart from that the Bulls don’t have too many worries as their lineouts and defence are solid, and with Jason Japhta being very lenient on the mark in the final minutes, they let in tries at the end that most sides would have.
There were some strong performances, not only from the Cheetahs' scrum, but also from Arno Botha and Jan Serfontein, both of whom were easily the Bulls' stars on the night.
Willie le Roux and Robert Ebersohn also impressed, as did Lappies Labuschagne and Heinrich Brussow for the umpteenth time this season.
The Bulls signaled their intent early, and after stealing the Cheetahs' lineout early on, a chip and chase by Bjorn Basson saw JJ Engelbrecht dotting down, only for TMO Gerrie Coetzee to rule a knock-on.
It didn’t matter much, because with the possession the Bulls had it wasn’t long before they were on the board, with two waves of attack setting up the move before Chiliboy Ralepelle burst through and then Werner Kruger went over.
The Cheetahs hit straight back as Willie le Roux chipped over the defence in trademark style and collected to score, giving the 32 322 crowd much to cheer about.
But after that the Bulls took control, although their finishing left much to be desired.
When they did get it right, as with the lineout drive that led to their second try, it almost looked too easy. A great take at the setpiece set up Deon Stegmann, who surged over with Arno Botha’s help to put the Bulls 14-7 up.
Morne Steyn managed to keep his side in front as penalties were swopped, but the Bulls would have felt disappointed as they went into the break with a 17-10 lead.
Steyn’s slow poison took control of the game in the second half, and although he missed one kick, two more successful penalties gave the Bulls a controlling 23-10 lead.
They sealed the game when Jan Serfontein broke through and popped a pass to Engelbrecht, who unloaded to Dewald Potgieter, who in turn sent Jano Vermaak away for the try.
At 30-10 up, the game was sealed, and all that was really in question was whether or not the Bulls would get a bonus-point try. But as happens so often between these two sides, the Cheetahs staged a comeback.
Riaan Smit went in at the corner although the pass looked suspiciously in line. But the TMO took one look and awarded it, while three minutes from the end another wave of attack took Trevor Nyakane over the line.
Replays showed a double movement, but the TMO decided otherwise, rewarding the Cheetahs with a try that clinched their bonus point.
Both sides will enjoy the break now and regroup at the end of June, knowing that they both have a realistic chance, but that the Bulls, by virtue of winning this game, are likely to end as conference winners.
Toyota Cheetahs - Tries: Willie le Roux, Riaan Smit, Trevor Ntando Nyakane. Conversions: Riaan Smit (2). Penalties: Smit (2).
Vodacom Bulls – Tries: Werner Kruger, Deon Stegman, Jano Vermaak. Conversions: Morne Steyn (3). Penalties: Steyn (3).