The Bulls' play-off hopes took a knock when they suffered a 32-21 loss to the Lions in Johannesburg on Saturday.
The Lions dominated from the outset but had to stave off a fightback from the visitors in the game's closin gstages. The home side thought they were home and dry when Warwick Tecklenburg scored a try in the 68th minute but the Bulls struck back with two late tries from William Small-Smith and Jaques du Plessis.
However, a late penalty from Marnitz Boshoff secured the win for the Lions and also denied the Bulls an opportunity to secure a bonus-point for losing by less than seven points.
The home side made a superb start and, after taking the ball through several phases from the kick-off, took a 3-0 lead thanks to a drop goal from Marnitz Boshoff in the third minute.
Two minutes later, the Bulls forwards were penalised for illegal scrummaging and Boshoff doubled his side's lead from the kicking tee. The Bulls had an opportunity to narrow the gap, after Warren Whiteley was penalised for a line-out infringement, but Jacques-Louis Potgieter's shot at goal was wide of the target.
The Lions kept up the pressure and were 9-0 up by the 10th minute when Boshoff slotted his second penalty and this was the catalyst for the visitors to increase their intensity on attack.
The Bulls were soon camped inside their hosts' 22 and in the 19th minute they were unlucky not to score a try. Akona Ndungane made the initial break and was stopped on the Lions' five-metre ine but managed to offload to Jurgen Visser, who spilled the ball as he was crossing the try-line.
Three minutes later the visitors thought they had their first try when Bjorn Basson crossed over, but his effort was disallowed after the television match official ruled that he had put a foot into touch.
The Bulls' dominance was eventually rewarded when Potgieter landed a penalty in the 31st minute but, despite further forays into their opponents' 22, they could not get over the try-line.
Another Potgieter penalty, in the 38th minute, was all they had to show for their efforts and the Lions went into the break leading 9-6.
The Bulls got the the first points of the second half via a Potgieter penalty in the 45th minute but the Lions regained the initiative from the restart.
Their captain Warren Whiteley did brilliantly to regain possession from the kick-off and offloaded to Alwyn Hollenbach inside the Bulls' 22. Hollenbach still had work to do and sold two defenders a dummy before crashing over with a defender on his back.
Boshoff converted to give the hosts a 16-9 lead and hosts seemed to grow in confidence as the match progressed. They were dominating the Bulls in the contact situation, which seemed to surprise the visitors.
The Lions spent most of the next 10 minutes inside the Bulls half and were rewarded with another drop goal from Boshoff in the 5th minute and he followed that up with his third penalty three minutes later.
The Bulls were under the cosh and suffered a further setback when Tecklenburg rounded off after Elton Jantjies tore the Bulls defence to shreds from inside his half. Jantjies put Stokkies Hanekom in the clear but after he was hauled in by the cover defence, close to the try-line, he offloaded to the on-rushing Tecklenburg who crashed over.
Boshoff added the conversion and with 10 minutes left, the Bulls fought back, albeit too late. Small-Smith rounded off, in the 70th minute, after Bongi Mbonambi did well with a barnstorming run inside the Lions' 22 in the build-up.
Three minutes later, Du Plessis then shrugged off several defenders before crossing over for his side's second try and when Potgieter converted, to make the score 29-21, the Bulls were still confident of at least gaining that bonus-point.
It wasn't to be, as Boshoff sealed the win for the home side with a 79th minute penalty after the visitors were pinged for a scrummaging infringment.