The Free State Cheetahs' hopes of making the Currie Cup play-offs lie in tatters after succumbing 30-27 to the Blue Bulls in Pretoria on Saturday.
The protagonists scored six tries between them in a game of high-quality rugby in front of a big crowd at Loftus Versfeld.
A single losing bonus point for the Cheetahs leaves the Free Staters trailing the Bulls by six points and the Griquas by eight with just two rounds left to play.
The visitors fought back from a 23-10 deficit at half-time to give the Bulls a real run for their money but just didn't have enough gas to finish the job against a home side packed with Springboks.
The Bulls' returning Boks were making their presence felt and MornÃ© Steyn opened the scoring with a trademark penalty after eight minutes.
Steyn was in the mix again a few minutes later when he sent a long pass out wide to find Gerhard van den Heever unmarked on the touchline. Steyn's conversion gave the home side a 10-0 lead but the Cheetahs were looking dangerous with ball in hand.
The Bulls went further ahead when Dewald Potgieter charged down Jacques-Louis Potgieter and flopped onto the ball in-goal after Deon Stegmann came dangerously close to knocking it on. The TMO said that Stegmann had in fact knocked the ball back, validating Potgieter's try to give the Bulls a 17-0 lead once Steyn had done the inevitable and added the extra two.
Potgieter finally got the Cheetahs on the scoreboard from the kicking tee but Steyn restored the gap after 25 minutes.
The Cheetahs struck just before the break when Fabian Juries produced one of the tries of the season, beating nine tacklers to finish under the posts.
Steyn was on target again as the hooter sounded as the Bulls led 23-10 at half-time.
Juries was the man of the moment soon after the break when he scorched down the left touchline to score his second try and put the Cheetahs right back into the game at 23-17.
Returning Bok centre Wynand Olivier was not to be outdone by Juries and produced a wonderful effort of his own to slice through the Cheetahs mid-field and restore the Bulls' lead.
It was to be night of outstanding tries as Lionel Mapoe somehow emerged from a gaggle of bodies on the Cheetahs wing to slalom his way to the try-line.
The Cheetahs continued to claw their way back into contention and Potgieter penalty on 60 minutes reduced the gap to three to set up a grandstand finish.
Both sides came close to scoring in the last quarter but two well-drilled defensive lines and some hectic scrambling kept the on their feet, but the scorer untroubled.
For the Blue Bulls:
Tries:Van den Heever, Potgieter, Olivier
For the Free State Cheetahs:
Tries: Juries 2, Mapoe
Cons: Potgieter 3
Pens: Potgieter 2
Yellow cards: Ashley Johnson (Cheetahs - 50th min)
Blue Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Jaco Pretorius, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Francois Hougaard, 10 MornÃ© Steyn, 9 Heini Adams, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Dewald Potgieter, 6 Deon Stegmann, 5 Victor Matfield (c), 4 Danie Rossouw, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Derick KuÃ¼n, 1 Gurthro Steenkamp.
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Ross Geldenhuys, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Pedrie Wannenburg, 20 Dean Greyling, 21 Francois Brummer, 22 John Mametsa.
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Lionel Mapoe, 13 CornÃ© Uys, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Fabian Juries, 10 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 9 JP Joubert, 8 Ashley Johnson, 7 Frans Viljoen, 6 Heinrich BrÃ¼ssow, 5 David de Villiers, 4 Nico Breedt, 3 WP Nel, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Wian du Preez.
Replacements: 16 Richardt Strauss, 17 Coenie Oosthuizen, 18 Izak van der Westhuizen, 19 Hendro Scholtz, 20 Tewis de Bruyn, 21 Louis Strydom, 22 JW Jonker
Referee: Ian Smith (Australia)