Cape Town - The Free State Cheetahs secured a last-gasp 41-40 come-from-behind victory over the Blue Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
The away side bounced back from their loss to the Griquas last weekend while the Blue Bulls were condemned to their third defeat of the season.
Tries from Jasper Wiese, Francois Venter, Sergeal Petersen and a Makazole Mapimpi hat-trick proved too much for the Blue Bulls who scored through Dries Swanepoel, Tony Jantjies, Warrick Gelant and a Jamba Ulengo brace.
The first quarter saw little action expect for flyhalves Tony Jantjies and Ryno Eksteen exchanging penalties.
A good backline move from the Bulls resulted in Swanepoel dotting down with Warrick Gelant providing the final assist with a well-timed pass.
But the Cheetahs hit back immediately. A good turnover from Jasper Wiese was made before the ball was recycled out to Francois Venter whose long-range pass found Mapimpi. Mapimpi showed scintillating pace to burn the Blue Bulls defence as he ran straight down the middle to cap a brilliant individual try against the run of play.
Once again, Gelant turned provider showing silky skills with another well-timed pass to unleash Jantjies through the gap to dot down as the Bulls regained the lead at 15-10 in the 22nd minute.
After some persistent pressure from the Cheetahs and repeated infringements from the Bulls, Jamba Ulengo was yellow-carded.
From the resulting penalty, the Cheetahs capitalised on their numerical advantage with a good scrum try. It was number eight Wiese who went over at the back. Eksteen converted as the away side regained the lead at 17-10.
Jantjies then slotted two penalties in quick succession to restore the home side's lead to 21-17. On the stroke of half-time, the Blue Bulls went down to 13 men with Shaun Adendorff the culprit for a deliberate knockdown.
Two quickfire tries from Mapimpi and Venter shortly after the resumption of the second half meant the Cheetahs held a 31-21 lead after 45 minutes.
Once again, the Blue Bulls hit back despite their numerical disadvantage to bring the deficit back within five. This time Ulengo dotted down after some intricate passing around the fringes with Gelant and Jantjies heavily involved.
And they regained the lead with Gelant getting the bonus-point try and Jantjies converting. Brilliant play once again from Gelant who is a real menace on attack. No wonder Springbok coach Allister Coetzee has been raving about his talents.
This time the Cheetahs were punished as Pierre Schoeman was yellow-carded for not rolling away.
More misery was piled on the Cheetahs and it was mainly self-inflicted. Trying to run the ball from their own try-line, they were punished when Ulengo ripped the ball off Clayton Blommetjies to claim his side's fifth. Jantjies added two from the tee as the Bulls took a commanding 40-31 lead.
But the game continued to be topsy-turvy in nature as the Free State Cheetahs hit back with a Sergeal Petersen try after great work from William Small-Smith.
With seconds remaining, Piet Van Zyl was sin-binned for a deliberate knockdown becoming the third Blue Bulls player to be yellow-carded in the match.
From the resulting penalty, the Cheetahs snatched victory from the jaws of defeat when they went over after a powerful series of carries from their forwards around the fringes. The ball was recycled out to the left wing where Mapimpi was waiting to finish clinically in the corner and silence the Loftus crowd in a thrilling finale to the match.
Tries: Swanepoel, Jantjies, Ulengo (2), Gelant
Conversions: Jantjies (3)
Penalties: Jantjies (3)
Free State Cheetahs
Tries: Mapimpi (3), Wiese, Venter, Petersen
Conversions: Eksteen (4)
15 Warrick Gelant, 14 Kefentse Mahlo, 13
Dries Swanepoel, 12 Burger Odendaal (captain), 11 Jamba Ulengo, 10 Tony
Jantjies, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Nicholas de Jager, 7 Abongile Nonkontwana, 6
Shaun Adendorff, 5 Ruben van Heerden, 4 Irne Herbst, 3 Conraad van
Vuuren, 2 Jan-Henning Campher, 1 Pierre Schoeman
Substitutes: 16 Johan Grobbelaar, 17 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 18 Jano Venter, 19 Clyde Davids, 20 Andre Warner, 21 Joshua Stander, 22 John Jackson
Free State Cheetahs
15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 Francois Venter (captain), 12 William Small-Smith, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Ryno Eksteen, 9 Zee Mkhabela, 8 Jasper Wiese, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Gerhard Olivier, 5 Rynier Bernardo, 4 Armand Koster, 3 Tom Botha, 2 Jacques du Toit, 1 Retshegofaditswe Nche
Substitutes: 16 Erich de Jager, 17 Joseph Dweba, 18 Dennis Visser, 19 Pierre Schoeman, 20 Juan-Philip Smith, 21 Ali Mgijima, 22 Rosko Specman