The win on the Cheetah's home ground at Bloemfontein lifted the Pretoria-based Bulls eight points clear in the South African conference as New Zealand and South African teams enter a three-week break for June Test matches.
The Bulls moved into second place overall and closer to an automatic semifinal berth when they held on in a high quality match. Although the Pretoria team was in control throughout the match and never trailed, late tries by Riaan Smit and substitute Trevor Nyakane secured a losing bonus point for the Cheetahs.
In the New Zealand conference, the Chiefs had a weekend bye and stayed 10 points clear of the Christchurch-based Crusaders who edged the New South Wales Waratahs 23-22.
The Australian conference remained more competitive as the ACT Brumbies beat the Wellington-based Hurricanes 30-23 to stay six points ahead of the Queensland Reds, who beat the Melbourne Rebels 33-20.
Queensland's injury-plagued backrower Scott Higginbotham is in doubt for Australia's upcoming Test series against the British and Irish Lions after suffering a dislocated shoulder in a collision.
"It's a little bit painful at the moment," Higginbotham said. "I'll get scans tonight and push on. Hopefully I'll be right to train and push on for selection for the Lions."
Quade Cooper, who has been left out of the Wallabies squad, had a shaky start, giving away tries to the Rebels' Scott Fuglistaller in the 35th minute and Rory Sidey in the 40th when his clearing kicks were charged down. He also missed a much-needed penalty and failed to convert Mike Morahan's 31st-minute try. But his dropped goal a minute before halftime sent Queensland to the break within striking distance at 17-13.
Cooper then produced a strong second half performance in combination with Wallabies scrumhalf Will Genia to help the Reds to a four try bonus point, outshining the Rebels' James O'Connor who is Australia's preferred candidate for the flyhalf role against the Lions.
"Quade scored a great try, a bit of creativity," Reds coach Ewen McKenzie said. "Only he can do things like that."
The Brumbies may be just one win away from securing their first Super Rugby semifinal since 2004 after their 30-23 home win over the Hurricanes.
"What I told them in the change room was that this is like knockout football now," White said. "And that is what is so nice about this group, is these sort of results and the way we won is real knockout rugby."
The Brumbies are still well-placed to lead the tournament into its mid-season break which the Australian teams will join after next weekend's shortened round. If they can beat Melbourne, they will vault the defending champion Chiefs into overall first place, though they will remain under pressure in Australia from the Reds who are guaranteed four points from a 17th-round bye.
New South Wales led Christchurch 22-10 after 44 minutes, with tries to wingers Cam Crawford and Peter Betham and flyhalf Bernard Foley, and seemed headed for a comfortable win.
But when coach Michael Cheika subbed Foley and scrumhalf Brendan McKibbin in the 57th minute, the Waratahs lost some of their structure. Crusaders flyhalf Dan Carter had a mediocre game but slotted five goals from six attempts and when he landed a penalty in the 73rd minute, the hosts went ahead 23-22 for their first lead of the game.
Waratahs replacement Berrick Barnes then missed a handy penalty in the last minute to cost his team a rare win at the Crusaders' home ground.
"Down 22-10 one stage, to get back to 23-22 and hold on, the mental strength of the players and impact our reserves had was phenomenal," Crusaders assistant coach Dave Hewitt said.
"To be sitting there relying on their kicker to miss a penalty to win the game is luck, to be fair. We were really fortunate it went our way."
Crusaders lock Dominic Bird suffered a shoulder injury which likely cost him an All Blacks debut against France next weekend. The 22-year-old Bird was expected to be named on the bench for the first Test but he is now sidelined for at least six weeks.
In other matches, the Dunedin-based Highlanders posted only their second win of the season, 38-28 over the Auckland-based Blues, to severely damage the Blues' chances of reaching the play-offs. The Stormers beat the Southern Kings 19-11 in a rain-soaked match at Cape Town. – Sapa