A strong finish enabled the Bulls to beat the Griquas 30-23 in Pretoria Saturday on the second day of South African Super Rugby Unlocked after an unexpectedly close match.
The Bulls have been among the 'big four' of South African rugby with the Lions, Sharks and Stormers for decades while the Griquas' lone major trophy came 50 years ago.
But it took the hosts 63 minutes to go ahead, through a penalty from 36-year-old former South Africa fly-half Morne Steyn, behind closed doors at Loftus Versfeld owing to the coronavirus.
A try from stand-in skipper and loose forward Arno Botha stretched the advantage to nine points before the Griquas responded through a second try from winger James Verity-Amm.
Steyn, who new Bulls coach Jake White calls his "general", had the final say with his penalty ensuring the Bulls of victory but not preventing the Griquas from taking a losing bonus point.
"I am happy with the win, but not with the way we achieved it," said Botha, one of many new signings made by 2007 Rugby World Cup-winning coach White when he took charge last March.
"We lacked discipline at the breakdowns during the first half and all of us need to watch a recording of this match and study where we did not execute the game plan properly.
"The experience of Morne (Steyn) was a key factor for us and I do not think this guy is ever going to grow old."
Back in Pretoria after six years with French Top 14 outfit Stade Francais, Steyn contributed 13 points from two conversions and three penalties after missing his first shot at goal.
- 'Unacceptable' -
Griquas captain and fly-half George Whitehead also pinpointed indiscipline, and was self critical having been sin-binned on 53 minutes.
"Getting yellow-carded was unacceptable," he admitted. "One of my tasks as captain is to set a good example to my team-mates and I clearly failed.
"No one gave us a chance before the game and I am proud that we ran the Bulls close. Our aim is to compete in this competition and not just take part."
Apart from the shrewdness of Steyn, the Bulls were indebted to their scrum, which made life increasingly uncomfortable for the Griquas.
The side from northern Cape city Kimberley built a 10-point lead only to concede an additional-time try to lock Ruan Nortje and turn over level at 10-10.
An Anthony Volmink try helped the underdogs lead 18-10 before a penalty try triggered a Bulls comeback that gave them a victory they just deserved.
Meanwhile, Malcolm Jaer scored three tries and fellow winger Rosco Specman two as the Cheetahs romped to a 53-31 victory over the Pumas in Bloemfontein.
In a match of two halves, the home side averaged a point a minute in the first to lead 41-3 at the break against overwhelmed opponents.
But the team from Mbombela (formerly Nelspruit) were much more competitive after a half-time tongue lashing from coach Jimmy Stonehouse.
The Pumas outscored the Cheetahs by four tries to two in the second half with the home side temporarily handicapped by the sin-binning of replacement hooker Louis van der Westhuizen.
A clearer picture of the capabilities of a Cheetahs side skippered by former Springbok utility back Ruan Pienaar should emerge next weekend when they host the Bulls.
On Friday, the Sharks edged the Lions 19-16 in Durban in the opening match, and the Springbok-stacked Stormers had a bye.