The Free State Cheetahs held off a late challenge from the Pumas in the dying minutes the game to secure a comfortable 45-30 victory in Witbank on Saturday.
With only one win from five matches, against the lowly Leopards, the newly promoted Pumas are already facing a relegation battle and will need to raise their game if they are to avoid a struggle for their place in the premier division.
With the Pumas leading 6-3 in the 17th minute, all from penalties, prop Coenie Oosthuizen placed the Cheetahs in the lead for the first time with the opening try of the game, and fly-half Louis Strydom converted to give them a 10-6 advantage.
Eight minutes later Pumas centre Shaun Venter dotted down for the hosts after an interception to put the Pumas on top again at 13-10, and fly-half Ricardo Croy added two for the conversion.
Hendro Scholtz, however, placed the visitors back in the driving seat with their third try, and wing Jongi Nokwe stole clear down the left wing from his own half to secure the bonus point try in the dying minutes of the first half.
Strydom converted both, and with a penalty from Croy in the 36th minute the only reply from the Pumas, the Cheetahs took a 24-16 lead in to half-time. And the visitors wasted no time after the break, pushing forward from the whistle, with Strydom breaking through in the 43rd minute to score, and converting his own try to put the Cheetahs 31-16 ahead shortly before he was replaced by Sias Ebersohn.
Nine minutes later wing Robert Ebersohn chipped the ball and chased from 30m out to dot it down, with his brother at fly-half kicking the conversion to stretch the gap by another seven points.
With the Cheetahs running the ball well and swinging it both ways, centre Meyer Bosman found a gap and crashed over in the 59th minute, with Sias Ebersohn converting, and the hosts were faced with a mountain to climb trailing 45-16.
Completely dominating the second period, the Cheetahs were unlucky not to have added another couple of tries, but the home side fought back hard with the final whistle approaching.
Jacques Coetzee barged over for the Pumas in the 78th minute to score their first try of the half, with Croy adding two points for the conversion.
And Carl Bezuidenhout scored another try on the right wing in injury time, with Elgar Watts slotting the conversion to close the gap even further.
It was too little too late, however, and the visitors held on to clinch their third win of the competition.
For the Pumas:
Tries: Venter, Bezuidenhout, Coetzee
Cons: Watts 3
Pens: Croy 3
For the Cheetahs:
Tries: Oosthuizen, Scholtz, Daniller, Nokwe, Bosman, R. Ebersohn
Cons:Strydom 4, S. Ebersohn
Pumas: 15 Elgar Watts, 14 Ashwin Scott, 13 Tiaan Marx, 12 Siviwe Magaba, 11 Shaun Venter, 10 Ricardo Croy, 9 Jacques Coetzee, 8 Christo le Roux, 7 Alwyn Bester, 6 Corné Steenkamp (c), 5 Marius Coetzer, 4 Andries Kruger, 3 Ashley Buys, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Dawie Steyn.
Replacements: 16 Hannes Franklin, 17 Dee-Jay Terblanche, 18 Willem Serfontein, 19 Jaco Bouwer, 20 Tian Meyer, 21 Carl Bezuidenhout, 22 Roelof Steyn.
Free State Cheetahs: Hennie Daniller; Phillip Snyman, Robert Ebersohn, Meyer Bosman, Jongi Nokwe, Louis Strydom, Tewis de Bruyn; Ashley Johnson, Francois Uys, Hendro Scholtz, Barend Pieterse, Izak van der Westhuizen, WP Nel, Adriaan Strauss, Coenie Oosthuizen.
Replacements: Skipper Badenhorst, CJ van der Linde, Waltie Vermeulen, Kabamba Floors, Tertius Carse, Sias Ebersohn, JW Jonker
Venue: Puma Stadium, Witbank
Referee: Mark Lawrence