Bryan Habana came back to haunt the Bulls on Saturday as his try helped the Stormers to a memorable and critical 19-14 victory at Loftus Versfeld.
The former Bulls wing crossed for an impressive score with eight minutes remaining, finishing off fine work from Siya Kolisi, as the gritty visitors managed to turn around a 9-14 scoreline in the final quarter. The hosts will not be happy though, particularly after turning down kickable points.
Habana's try was created by a lovely outside line hit by youngster Kolisi, who then drew the last man before handing back inside to his team-mate. And despite a late Bulls stampede, the visitors continued to stand firm as they yet again demonstrated superb defence when it mattered.
It was always going to be a fixture based on set-piece and that unfortunately had a negative effect on the early entertainment on show in Pretoria.
The game began minutes after the Sharks had missed the chance to go level with the Stormers at the top of the South African conference. Before the round had kicked off, it had looked like there would be a three-franchise pile-up at the summit, but now the Sharks are playing catch-up.
What maybe also contributed to the lack of enterprise from both sides was the shadow of the Springbok squad announcement possibly being in the back of some players' minds.
The first half was an even affair as Allister Coetzee's side struck the first blow ten minutes into the match with fly-half Peter Grant succeeding with a penalty. But the Bulls returned the favour four minutes later with Morne Steyn also converting his penalty kick.
In the 20th minute the Stormers wrestled back the lead with Grant slotting over a penalty. Up to this point the Bulls had followed the kick-and-chase game-plan with little effect.
This proved to be fruitful as Bulls number eight Pierre Spies bashed his way over the try line in the 28th minute with Steyn missing the conversion, much to the angst of Jean de Villiers who wasn't happy with referee Jonathan Kaplan's question posed to the TMO.
The last minutes of the first-half ticked over with both sides converting penalties to take the half-time scores to 11-9 in the Bulls' favour in what had become a chess match of a game.
After the break the Bulls got back on the score-sheet with Steyn succeeding with another shot, with the Bulls seeming secure in the driving seat as they smothered the Stormers.
The hosts were presented with a golden opportunity to take the match away from the Stormers with away prop Frans Malherbe receiving a yellow card for a dangerous tackle.
They could, however, not convert this chance into points and instead of extending their lead they gave away a penalty which Grant converted to take them within two points of the hosts.
The Stormers struck the final demoralising blow when a darting Habana scored his side's only try of the match. Replacement Deon Fourie forced a turnover and the ball was spread wide to flanker Kolisi who sent a well weighted pass into the hands of a flying Habana.
With Grant succeeding with the conversion the Stormers were in a commanding position to cement their place at the top of the South African conference. The Bulls tried to no avail to wrestle the lead back and left thousands of pink-clad fans disappointed at full-time.
Pen: Steyn 3
Pen: Grant 4
Bulls: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Akona Ndungane, 13 JJ Engelbrecht, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Bjorn Basson, 10 Morne Steyn, 9 Francois Hougaard, 8 Pierre Spies (c), 7 CJ Stander, 6 Dewald Potgieter, 5 Juandre Kruger, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Werner Kruger, 2 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 1 Dean Greyling.
Replacements: 16 Willie Wepener, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Wilhelm Steenkamp, 19 Arno Botha, 20 Jano Vermaak, 21 Louis Fouche, 22 Francois Venter.
Stormers: 15 Gio Aplon, 14 Gerhard van den Heever, 13 Juan de Jongh, 12 Jean de Villiers (c), 11 Bryan Habana, 10 Peter Grant, 9 Dewaldt Duvenage, 8 Jebb Sinclair, 7 Rynhardt Elstadt, 6 Siya Kolisi, 5 De Kock Steenkamp, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Tiaan Liebenberg, 1 Deon Carstens.
Replacements: 16 Deon Fourie, 17 Brok Harris, 18 Quinn Roux, 19 Don Armand, 20 Nick Fenton-Wells, 21 Louis Schreuder, 22 Burton Francis.
Referee: Jonathan Kaplan (South Africa)