The Cheetahs edged Western Force 17-13 in an error-strewn Super Rugby match at Vodacom Stadium on Saturday.
Cheetahs captain Adriaan Strauss, the outstanding player in the match, scored what proved the winning try when he crossed the Force line in the 54th minute.
The Cheetahs, trailing 9-13, had opted not to kick at the posts three times in quick succession, having been awarded penalties in the Force 22-metre area.
The home team stretched the lead to 17-13 when fly-half Sias Ebersohn landed his third penalty goal and a crucial moment came with 18 minutes to go when the Force were awarded a penalty in front of the Cheetahs' posts.
They opted for a scrum, then conceded a penalty that enabled Cheetahs to kick their way out of danger.
It was one of 16 penalties conceded by Force against only eight by Cheetahs and the Australians several times showed their frustration in a niggly, bad-tempered encounter.
Cheetahs dominated possession during the first half, but were fortunate to lead 9-6 at half-time.
Shortly before the break, Force wing Samu Wara crossed for what appeared to be a try, but assistant referee Stefan Breytenbach notified referee Stuart Berry of foul play in the build-up.
Instead of awarding a try, Berry penalised Force prop Salesi Ma'afu for tackling an opponent around the neck.
But it took Force only six minutes of the second half to score the first try when a clearance kick by Cheetahs full-back Hennie Daniller was charged down by centre Winston Stanley, who picked up for a simple try.
Cheetahs hit back almost immediately and always looked the more likely side to score although Force pressed hard in the closing minutes.
"It was a hard-fought game," said Force captain and Wallaby flank David Pocock.
"The Cheetahs defence was too good. We were disappointed we turned over the ball on their line right at the end."
Strauss said it was a physical encounter. "They were good at the breakdowns. Every time we got momentum they stopped us," he said.
Cheetahs might have won more easily if Ebersohn, starting at fly-half in place of injured teenage star Johan Goosen, had been in better goal-kicking form as he landed only three of seven attempts.
CHEETAHS 17 (Adriaan Strauss try Sias Ebersohn 3, Tewis de Bruyn pens) bt WESTERN FORCE 13 (Winston Stanley try David Harvey con 2 pens) at Vodacom Park. Referee: Stuart Berry.