The Bulls cemented their place in the play-offs with a 23-5 victory over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
The defeat means the Cheetahs are in serious danger of missing out on the semi-final, as they are now tied on points with Western Province, but with an inferior points difference.
They should improve that over the next fortnight against the Valke (away) and Boland (home) but the defeat, their third in succession, has given the Cape boys a realistic chance of sneaking into the play-offs.
The Cheetahs were enterprising but rudderless and had neither the tactical intelligence, guile nor patience to break down the Bulls.
Conversely the Bulls were patient and intelligent in their approach for the most part, playing to their strength in their forwards but showing confidence in what is an ever improving backline when the platform had been set.
This was particularly evident in their first try, a 15 phase gem in which nearly every Bulls player handled the ball, before Bryan Habana sliced through the Cheetahs’ defensive line to score.
Morne Steyn added the extras to go with two earlier penalties and at 13-0 the Bulls has signalled their intent.
They were clinical in their ruck cleans, knowing that that facet of play was a strength of the Cheetahs and this ensured that scrumhalf Fourie du Preez was regularly able to feed the attacking line with quick, quality ball.
Their lineouts were ordinary, with Derrick Kuun failing to find his jumpers on a number of occasions, but their high standard in other facets of play overshadowed their failings here.
One such facet was their defence, which featured dominance at the collision points, good communication and organisation and some desperate scrambling when it was required. This meant that despite completely dominating territory and possession, the Cheetahs were limited to just five points.
The hosts failed to deal with their hard push off the defensive line but it was the sharp decision-making within that defensive structure which was particularly impressive.
Marius Delport epitomised this when he rushed up and intercepted a Chris Rossouw pass and sprinted 80m to score. If he’d failed in his attempt it would have been a certain try. Instead the converted score extended the Bulls’ lead further – and at 20-0 with 27 minutes elapsed – the Cheetahs were wondering what the hell had hit them.
Steyn contributed three more points off the boot to send his side down the tunnel 23-0 ahead.
It was, however, the Cheetahs who started second-half more brightly, scoring in the 45th minute through Robert Ebersohn.
They slowed their tempo down and played more directly. This benefited them tremendously as they committed more Bulls defenders to rucks, which then allowed them to extract better value from a talented backline after a couple of phases.
They camped in the Bulls 22m for much of the third quarter but silly infringements and a plethora of handling errors in good field position cost them the opportunity to reduce the deficit at that stage.
That seemed to be contagious as the Bulls’ skills descended from very good to distinctly ordinary as the match wore on.
Their problems were compounded when they lost lock Danie Rossouw to the sin bin for a late shoulder charge in the 65th minute. But the Cheetahs failed to capitalise and ultimately slumped to yet another disappointing defeat.
Cheetahs - Try: Robert Ebersohn
Blue Bulls -) Try: Bryan Habana, Marius Delport. Conversion: Morne Steyn (2). Penalty: Steyn (3)