The Bulls showed why they are the best post-coronavirus shutdown team in South Africa by defeating Siya Kolisi-led Western Province 22-20 with 14 men Saturday in a Currie Cup first-round thriller.
Having won the South African Super Rugby Unlocked competition, which signalled the return of competitive rugby in the republic, last weekend, the Bulls faced their toughest challenge to date in Cape Town.
They had prop Jacques van Rooyen red-carded on 47 minutes for a late tackle and fell 15-8 behind soon after when a kind bounce off a long kick sent Province winger Angelo Davids clear for a try.
It seemed the four-match winning streak of the Bulls under coach Jake White was about to end given Province were securing plenty of possession and had a numerical advantage.
The never-say-die character of the visitors then came to the fore and they levelled when winger Kurt-Lee Arendse scored his second try of the match and fly-half Chris Smith converted.
But the Bulls had barely stopped celebrating when flanker Ernst van Rhyn scored a try and Province were 20-15 ahead with 10 minutes remaining.
When the Bulls were awarded a kickable penalty five minutes from time, Smith kicked for touch rather than at the posts, and the gamble paid off.
A 14-phase assault on the Province tryline followed the lineout and ended with a superb Smith cross-kick being caught by substitute scrum-half Marco Jansen van Vuren, who crossed the tryline.
Smith faced a challenging conversion attempt, but the ball went just inside the far post and Bulls had a two-point lead they successfully defended until the final whistle.
The dramatic victory meant the Bulls began the Currie Cup where they ended Super Rugby Unlocked -- at the top of the seven-team standings.
Super Rugby points have been carried forward to the Currie Cup so the Bulls have 27, the Sharks 24, the Stormers 20, defending champions the Cheetahs 17, the Lions 16, the Pumas seven and the Griquas four.
Meanwhile, the Lions were leading the Griquas 20-17 after 47 minutes in Kimberley when lightning forced play to be abandoned and the visitors from Johannesburg were declared winners.