Bulls centre Stedman Gans bagged his fifth South African Super Rugby Unlocked try this season to turn the tide Saturday in a 30-25 fifth-round victory over the Lions.
He intercepted a pass from Lions captain and fly-half Elton Jantjies and scored, with veteran Bulls playmaker Morne Steyn converting for a 20-15 lead on 50 minutes.
Winger Kurt-Lee Arendse struck another crucial blow for the Bulls with nine minutes left by crossing the tryline and Steyn once again added the extra two points to leave the Lions eight points adrift.
All the home side could manage in reply was a post-hooter penalty from Jantjies that earned a losing bonus point for the Johannesburg outfit behind closed doors at Ellis Park due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Victory for frontrunners the Bulls left them well placed to win the single-round competition which signalled the return of rugby to South Africa last month after a six-month break due to Covid-19.
They have a bye next weekend, then host the lowly Pumas in Pretoria needing a bonus-point victory to put themselves beyond the reach of challengers the Stormers, Sharks and Cheetahs.
"I am happy with the win but not the performance," said Bulls captain and back-row forward Duane Vermeulen, a key figure in the 2019 Springbok Rugby World Cup-winning team.
- 'Much better at home' -
"We play much better at home than away. It is a mental thing and we need to work on it. Credit to the Lions for their intensity."
Jantjies said: "Occasional lapses in discipline let us down in a match we could have won. We must correct our mistakes and grow as a team."
Steyn, at 36 the general of the Bulls team having returned from a seven-year stint with Stade Francais, kicked three conversions and three penalties and the Bulls' other try came from hooker Joe van Zyl.
His 15-point haul made Steyn the leading scorer in the competition with 62 points and Gans is the top try scorer.
Scrum-half Morne van den Berg and centres Burger Odendaal and Wandisile Simelane scored a try each for the Lions while Jantjies slotted two conversions and two penalties.
Meanwhile, the Stormers from Cape Town triumphed 39-6 away to bottom team the Griquas in Kimberley -- the identical score by which the winners fell to the Bulls last weekend.
It would have been an even more embarrassing scoreline for the hosts had Stormers fly-half Damian Willemse not missed four of eight shots at goal.
After Griquas fly-half Tinus de Beer fluffed a penalty attempt that would have narrowed the deficit to six points early in the second half, the Stormers ran riot for a six-try bonus-point victory.
The match marked the 100th appearances for their teams by Stormers prop Steven Kitshoff and Griquas winger Ederies Arendse.