Cardiff Rugby slipped to defeat at the Arms Park as Vodacom Bulls powered back in the United Rugby Championship.
The Blue and Blacks dominated in the first half and went into the changing rooms with a 16-3 advantage thanks to a Matthew Screech try and the boot of Rhys Priestland.
But the Pretoria-based outfit stormed back in the second-half with Elrigh Louw crashing over from close range and a fortuitous try from Madosh Tambwe giving them the lead.
With their giant pack bruising forward at every opportunity the pressure continued to take it’s toll as Chris Smith's perfect kicking display ensured Cardiff came away empty handed ahead of another South African encounter against Cell C Sharks at the Arms Park next week.
Cardiff got off to a flying start against the sizeable Vodacom Bulls outfit and should have taken the inside a couple of minutes following an intelligent kick and regather down the left.
The ball was spread back to the right and some fine play from Ben Thomas, who sucked in two men before offloading to Rey Lee-Lo, appeared to unlock the South African defence. Lee-Lo fed Josh Navidi and the back-row dummied his way through, but with the try-line beckoning Marcel Coetzee recovered to make a phenomenal try-saving tackle.
Cardiff eventually settled for a penalty, slotted by Rhys Priestland, and remained in the ascent with Owen Lane and Will Boyde combining down the right. However the promising attacking opportunity was lost after Seb Davies was penalised and sent to the sin-bin for a shoulder charge at the breakdown.
The Blue and Blacks were dealt a further blow minutes later when Navidi, who was making his first appearance of the season was forced off after picking up an injury in the process of tackling Jacques du Plessis.
Despite the set-back, Cardiff continued to cause the visitors problems and some good work from Rhys Carré earned a penalty at the breakdown, which his namesake Priestland slotted.
That gave Cardiff a 6-0 lead and while the Bulls threatened following a counter-attack from electric wing Kurt-Lee Arendse, who set alarm bells ringing with an offload to David Kriel, it was the home side that also claimed the opening try.
Following a sustained period of pressure, which also saw Bulls fly-half Johan Goosen depart with a nasty looking knee injury, Rey Lee-Lo made the half-break to lay the foundations. That was followed up by strong carries from Carré and Dmitri Arhip, before Screech drove over from close range.
Priestland added the extras to give his side a 10-0 advantage after less than 20 minutes. While the Bulls boasted a typically enormous pack and carried hard, Cardiff were increasingly profiting at the breakdown.
The Bulls did hit-back with a penalty, landed by Chris Smith, after Arhip failed to roll away on 25 minutes but Priestland quickly responded following a powerful home scrum.
Cardiff went into the break with a 16-3 advantage but it did not long for the South African outfit to bull-doze their way back after the restart.
It was a brutal approach as they went to their big carriers, with former Springbok Bismark du Plessis at the fore, and they even opted to tap a penalty. It was an approach that paid off as Elrigh Lowe bludgeoned through the home defence for the try with Smith converting.
Smith continued to chip away at the Cardiff lead as the Bulls reverted to their power game and took the direct route.
Young’s men were not without their own opportunities with Ben Thomas and Lee-Lo linking up well and an intelligent Thomas kick narrowly evading Lane at full pace.
Priestland also struck the uprights and another kick through almost found Lane as Cardiff were increasingly frustrated.
The Bulls took the lead shortly after the hour mark and the try came in fortuitous circumstances as the ball was slapped out of the hands of Hallam Amos, Lee-Lo was taken out and Madosh Tambwe hacked through.
The wing then eased passed Priestland to dive on the ball and replays suggested contact was only made with the arm of Amos to dislodge the ball and the try stood. Smith adding the extras and a quick fire penalty to make it 16-23.
Smith and Priestland exchanged long-range penalties in the closing stages as Cardiff stayed in touch with the visitors.
However, with three minutes remaining, Smith struck the hammer blow, slotting a penalty to take the losing bonus point away, leaving the hosts empty handed.
Cell C Sharks are the visitors to the Arms Park next week in the second of three consecutive home matches in the capital.