PRETORIA: The Bulls scored six tries and then switched off in a 40-24 Super Rugbyvictory over the Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
A rout seemed on the cards when left-wing Bjorn Basson crossed for his ninth try of the season 18 minutes into the second half and fly-half Morne Steyn converted to put the three-time champions 40 points ahead.
Adding to the woes of the outplayed Cheetahs from central city Bloemfontein was that inside centre Andries Strauss had to spend another three minutes in the sin bin for retaliation.
But instead of surrendering, the mid-table Cheetahs finally exposed their claws to run in four tries for a bonus point and give the final scoreline far more respectability than seemed likely at one stage.
Bulls still got what they wanted -- a bonus-point victory that elevated them to fourth place and a guaranteed home quarter-final if they take nine points from the last fixtures against Coastal Sharks (away) and Golden Lions (home).
"It was important to get back on the horse after three consecutive defeats," said skipper and Springbok No 8 Pierre Spies. "We took our foot off the pedal in the second half but I am happy with the result."
Cheetahs captain and hooker Adriaan Strauss said the first half showing by his side which left them trailing 26-0 at half-time was "shocking" and "the worst performance of the season.
"We got our act together in the second half but by then it was too late to save the match. We must step up against Western Stormers next week and play two halves like the second half here."
After the Springbok-saturated Bulls dominated all phases for the opening 40 minutes, the second half often resembled sevens rugby with each side flinging the ball about and there were plenty of tries as poor defending was exposed.
Steyn -- under public and media fire after missing 12 of 22 goal kicks in the 2-0 Test series win over England this month -- landed five of six conversions attempts and the other rebounded off the far post.
His 10 points took him to 203 for the Super 15 season in what looks like a two-man race with Waikato Chiefs and All Blacks fly-half Aaron Cruden (198) to finish leading points scorer.
Spies, loose-head prop Dean Greyling, full-back Zane Kirchner, at times cumbersome scrum-half Francois Hougaard, tight-head prop Werner Kruger and Basson crossed the try-line for the Bulls.
Edinburgh-bound tight-head WP Nel bagged two tries for Cheetahs and full-back Willie le Roux and discarded Springbok flank Heinrich Brussow one each with replacement fly-half Sias Ebersohn kicking two conversions.
BULLS 40 (Bjorn Basson, Dean Greyling, Francois Hougaard, Zane Kirchner, Werner Kruger, Pierre Spies tries Morne Steyn 5 cons) bt CHEETAHS 24 (WP Nel 2, Heinrich Brussow, Willie Le Roux tries Sias Ebersohn 2 cons) at Loftus Versfeld. Referee: Marius Jonker.