Ligtoring Landman of the Cheetahs during the Super Rugby match between Toyota Cheetahs and Vodacom Bulls at Free State Stadium. Picture: Johan Pretorius

Cheetahs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (12) 15

Penalties: Goosen (4); Drop-goal: Goosen

Bulls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .(3) 9

Penalties: Fouche, Pollard (2)

Free State Stadium - Tragedy struck the Bulls here on Friday night as 23 men parading as would-be Super Rugby title contenders saw their championship aspirations sink in a downpour of rain against a determined Cheetahs team.

This was the first time in the history of the competition that the once-mighty Bulls have lost a match to the Cheetahs.

It was also the Bulls’ second consecutive loss to start the season, keeping them well rooted to the bottom of the South African conference.

This was the worst start to a Super Rugby season for the Bulls since 2008 with their performances against the Sharks last weekend and the Cheetahs the most hapless since they last won their third Super Rugby title in 2010.

Contrary to their opponents, the Cheetahs seized the moment coincidentally on the same day that the South African National Defence Force celebrated Armed Forces Day in Bloemfontein.

The Cheetahs’ performance epitomised everything about a battalion of soldiers hungry to avenge the one-point home defeat to the Lions last weekend and also to ensure that they got their campaign back on track.

The Cheetahs won the battle in the collision, first with ball in hand and on defence, while their uncompromising physicality at the rucks ensured that they turned over the Bulls no less than 20 times.

The Bulls’ failure to man up was probably their biggest weakness on the night, but it was aided by the misfiring kicking of flyhalf Louis Fouche and the pitiful line-out throwing from hooker Callie Visagie.

As easy as it was to pick out all the flaws committed by the Bulls, it was hard to believe that not even the injection to the game of former captain Victor Matfield and SA Under-20 star flyhalf Handre Pollard could breathe life and some form of character into the three-time champions.

All the Bulls could walk away with after 80 minutes of being thrown around by the Cheetahs was a paltry nine points – two penalties from Pollard and one from Fouche.

It was the Cheetahs who were the biggest winners on the night as it was their first win of the season and they could not have done it against better opposition.

While the Bulls have talked about being among the last teams remaining come the knockout stage of the competition, the Cheetahs did their talking on the field.

Even though this was far from their best performance yet, as it was tainted by too much kicking even when deep in Bulls territory, this performance armed them with the belief they need ahead of their overseas tour to Australia and New Zealand.

It was on the same overseas trip last year that the Cheetahs mustered the character and belief that saw them go on to make an appearance in the play-offs.

For the Bulls, it was the same kind of performance that saw them occupy last place in Super Rugby for three consecutive years between 2000 and 2002, and the remnants of this indicate that the Bulls will sink to the same depths again this year.

Saturday Star