Central Cheetahs attacked relentlessly in the first half and defended superbly after the break to claim a 34-28 Super Rugby victory at home to Northern Bulls on Saturday.
In a South African derby of contrasting halves, Cheetahs scored four converted tries to turn over 28-14 ahead at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein.
It was a different story in the second half, though, as the Bulls dominated possession and territory and two converted tries in quick succession narrowed the gap to three points.
The Cheetahs held their nerve and Fred Zeilinga completed a flawless goal-kicking performance with his second penalty of the half to double the lead.
Victory was a huge relief for the hosts after starting the season last weekend with an unlucky home loss to 2016 runners-up and fellow South Africans the Golden Lions.
For the second successive weekend three-time former champions the Bulls paid dearly for a sluggish first half, having begun their campaign with a loss at the Western Stormers.
“Character earned us this victory,” said Cheetahs skipper and hooker Torsten van Jaarsveld, deputising for the injured Francois Venter.
“Our plan was to move the huge Bulls forwards around the heavy field to tire them, and it worked.
“I am disappointed that we left points on the field for the second match in a row. We have got to be more clinical.”
Bulls skipper and fly-half Handre Pollard, a Springbok slowly regaining form after missing last season through injury, lamented another poor first half showing.
“It was the same story as last weekend, falling far behind and then playing catch-up.
“We cannot continue like this — showing great character but losing matches. Even when playing second fiddle in the first half, there were chances we did not take.”
Oupa Mohoje scored two tries, with Clinton Swart and Justin Basson adding one each for the winners while Zeilinga slotted four conversions and two penalties.
Jason Jenkins, Piet van Zyl and Jamba Ulengo were Bulls’ try scorers. Tian Schoeman kicked two conversions and Pollard three penalties.
Cheetahs host the Japanese Sunwolves next weekend while the Bulls have a bye.
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