The amount of aimless kicking had irked the Bloemfontein crowd throughout the game and it was ironic that it was a charged-down attempted drop-kick by Cheetahs flyhalf Willie du Plessis that sealed the Bulls’ win.
Replacement flank Wian Liebenberg was up quickly in defence and the ball rebounded off his hands for wing Sampie Mastriet, who had a wonderful game, to gather and streak away for the try.
But where the Bulls really won the game was in the period of excellent ball-retention and multiple phases they put together to earn Jacques-Louis Potgieter a penalty shot in the 77th minute. The sharpshooting flyhalf nailed the kick from 5m in from touch to cancel out a 73rd-minute drop goal by Du Plessis that had snatched a 22-21 lead for the home side.
The Bulls had the upper hand in the first half, but they once again squandered opportunities on attack and they paid for poor discipline with both Potgieter and lock Paul Willemse being yellow-carded and Du Plessis kicking four penalties to keep Free State in touch.
The Cheetahs will be bemoaning their poor performance at the scrum, where they were penalised several times by referee Marius van der Westhuizen, but the Bulls will be pleased with the character they showed in denying the home side despite a much-improved second-half display.
Mastriet scored in the first half after props Dean Greyling and Werner Kruger went on the charge to earn a penalty, and a slick lineout move then created space for the wing, who regularly injected some much-needed pace into the Bulls’ attacks, to dot down.
But young Liebenberg will be the toast of Pretoria after ensuring that the Bulls will still have a chance of making the semi-finals when they take on the Pumas (away) and Griquas (home) in their last two games.
Free State Cheetahs – Try: Sarel Pretorius. Conversion: Willie du Plessis. Penalties: Du Plessis (4). Drop goal: Du Plessis.
Blue Bulls – Tries: Sampie Mastriet (2), Grant Hattingh. Conversions: Jacques-Louis Potgieter (2). Penalties: Potgieter (4).