Replacement Bulls lock Danie Rossouw scored two tries in seven minutes in a 32-21 win over the Cheetahs on Saturday that reignited the struggling champions' Super rugby season.
Rossouw, who played at number eight for the Springboks in the 2007 Rugby World Cup final, came on as a second-half substitute with his team hanging on to a slender 11-7 lead and the Cheetahs in the ascendancy.
The 33-year-old showed all his experience at a crucial stage against the gallant but inexperienced and injury-ravaged visitors.
The Bulls' eighth win in 13 matches, where they secured a four-try bonus point, leaves them in third place in the South African conference, two points behind the Sharks and seven behind the Stormers.
The Cheetahs, in coming to the end of a four-match winning streak that included a victory over seven-times champions Canterbury Crusaders, remain fourth, 11 points adrift of the Bulls and firmly out of playoff contention.
"It was very important at the end that we got that bonus point," Bulls captain Victor Matfield said. "The Cheetahs showed a lot of character. I don't know why but they always come back when we play them."
The Bulls, who have never lost to the Cheetahs on their home ground in Super rugby, opened the scoring in the third minute when winger Bjorn Basson scooted over in the left-hand corner.
Flyhalf Morne Steyn hooked the acute-angled conversion but succeeded with penalties in the 17th and 34th minutes to give his team an 11-0 lead at halftime.
Any thoughts of this being a one-sided encounter were quickly dispelled after the break when Cheetahs flanker Ashley Johnson scored the first of his two tries in the 51st minute to make it 11-7 after flyhalf Sias Ebersohn's conversion.
With the visitors pushing hard, replacement Rossouw burst through the Cheetahs' midfield defence from 40 metres for his first try, then cantered in for his second after Steyn had made all the running.
The Cheetahs' never-say-die attitude was exemplified by the livewire Johnson, who sprinted in from 30 metres for his second try with 15 minutes left after an incisive midfield break by hooker and captain Adriaan Strauss.
Ebersohn ghosted through with a minute left, then converted his own try but the Bulls countered clinically with a fourth try to scrumhalf Francois Hougaard for a bonus point that may yet prove crucial in the final standings.
"It was a very tough and physical game," Cheetahs skipper Strauss said. "They were the better side on the day. We didn't use all the opportunities that came our way."