The Chiefs overturned an early deficit to claim a significant 34-20 Super Rugby victory over the touring Bulls in Rotorua on Friday.
The Chiefs outscored their visitors five tries to three to yet again underline their credentials as title contenders and simultaneously put a huge dent in the Bulls play-off hopes.
Outstanding performances from scrum-half Augustine Pulu – who scored twice – plus Damian McKenzie, Liam Messam and the Chiefs front row set up a crucial win that represents a huge step towards a home play-off.
The feel-good story of the game however was the performance of veteran lock Ross Filipo, who was brought into the Chiefs side at the last minute as an emergency replacement but turned back the clock with a barnstorming 70-minute display, playing a hand in three of his team's tries.
The scores were locked at 15-all at the interval with the teams scoring two tries apiece in a high-paced, entertaining opening half.
Tries from Bulls backs Jan Serfontein and Bjorn Basson gave the visitors an unexpected early lead but the Chiefs replied with excellent scores from skipper Messam and winger Bryce Heem.
Two tries after the break from Pulu handed the advantage to home side although a late try from Bulls replacement forward Lappies Labuschagne made for a tense finish.
Tim Nanai-Williams came off the Chiefs bench to race over after the final hooter to add some shine to the scoreboard and leave the Bulls empty-handed.
Chiefs pivot McKenzie opened the scoring off the kicking tee but his team soon trailed as the first try came against the run of play. Basson hacked a loose ball upfield and when Hosea Gear failed to cope with the bobbling ball, Serfontein pounced for a soft try.
That put a spring in the Bulls' step as they applied pressure and were rewarded with a second try after Serfontein's grubber bounced awkwardly for Heem, who chose to bat the ball away in-goal, only for it to fall straight into the path of Basson.
Handré Pollard added the conversion and then a penalty. At 15-3, the Bulls were cruising but the reply from the Chiefs was scintillating.
First Messam muscled the ball onto the chalk from short range before an amazing try from way down town that featured almost every player in the Chiefs team handling the ball saw Heem cross in the corner.
It was anyone's game at the break but Pulu's brace in the space of two minutes left the Bulls with a mountain to climb in the final quarter.
A nifty show-and-go down the blindside opened the way for the Chiefs scrum-half to score before a brilliant break from McKenzie and more good work from Filipo set up his second.
Two more conversions from McKenzie meant the Chiefs were up 29-15 but a yellow card to Sam Cane for his team's spoiling tactics at the breakdown gave the Bulls a sniff.
And they made the numerical advantage count with Labuschagne crashing over after a textbook lineout and maul drive.
Crucially though, Pollard missed the conversion and left his team outside of losing bonus point.
Typically, the Chiefs kept the pedal down in the dying moments and Nanai-Williams raced clear after the buzzer to add a nail in the Bulls' coffin.
Tries: Messam, Heem, Pulu 2, Nanai-Williams
Cons: McKenzie 3
Yellow card: Cane
Tries: Serfontein, Basson, Labuschagne
Chiefs: 15 Tom Marshall, 14 Hosea Gear, 13 Charlie Ngatai, 12 Anton Lienert-Brown, 11 Bryce Heem, 10 Damian McKenzie, 9 Augustine Pulu, 8 Michael Leitch, 7 Sam Cane, 6 Liam Messam (c), 5 Johan Bardoul, 4 Michael Fitzgerald/Ross Filipo, 3 Ben Tameifuna, 2 Hika Elliot, 1 Mitchell Graham
Replacements: 16 Quentin MacDonald, 17 Siate Tokolahi, 18 Pauliasi Manu, 19 Brian Alainu’uese, 20 Maama Vaipulu, 21 Brad Weber, 22 Andrew Horrell, 23 Tim Nanai-Williams
Bulls: 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Francois Hougaard, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Jan Serfontein, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Rudy Paige, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Jacques du Plessis, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Marcel van der Merwe, 2 Callie Visagie, 1 Trevor Nyakane
Replacements: 16 Jaco Visagie, 17 Dean Greyling, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Lappies Labuschagne, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 Burger Odendaal, 23 Travis Ismaiel
Venue: Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua
Referee: Chris Pollock
Assistant Referees: Glen Jackson, Aki Aso
TMO: Glenn Newman