An inspirational performance by captain Kieran Read and a spirited late comeback couldn't prevent the Crusaders capitulating 32-30 to the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld this morning.
The Crusaders are also in the unusual position of being accused of eye-gouging.
Late in the first half Bulls hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle reported to referee Jaco Peyper that he had been gouged when buried at the bottom of a ruck.
Following a short discussion with skippers Kieran Read and Pierre Spies, Peyper flashed a white card to signal the citing commissioner will investigate the allegation.
TV replays failed to reveal whether anything sinister happened in the pile-up but it is a distraction the Crusaders could do without ahead of their seventh-round match against the Stormers in Christchurch next weekend.
Led by the No 8 Read the Crusaders unleashed a game plan based around speed, width and possession in contrast to the Bulls' pragmatic approach of searching for territory and then relying on superboot Morne Steyn to kick penalties.
Although the Crusaders outscored the Bulls by three tries to two they were undone by Steyn who slotted eight of his 10 shots at goal.
It was a bold strategy but they struggled to penetrate the Bulls disciplined defensive line and clean breaks were rare.
Although he struggled with his goal kicking and converted misses three attempts he would usually nail - the first time he had taken over the duties since rupturing his groin muscle at the World Cup - Dan Carter offered some vital leadership on attack.
He ran at the line with purpose, especially in the first half when the tourists dominated territory and unleashed a trademark inside pass to wing Zac Guildford for his try late in the match.
But crucial errors by fullback Israel Dagg did little for the Crusaders' cause and a wild fly kick failed to clear a Steyn grubber in-goal and Wynand Olivier pounced to score the Bulls second try in the second half.
While Bulls loosehead prop Dean Greyling will watch many replays of his try, Dagg will be less than happy about his contribution to the movement.
It was Dagg's attempted chip kick in the midfield that gave possession back to the Bulls and as they pushed the Crusaders' backs to their wall they unleashed the stampeding Greyling.
The prop hit the ball at pace and as he ran towards Dagg he sold the No 15 an outrageous dummy pass to score untouched and send the 34,000-strong crowd into raptures.
Peyper is also unlikely to have been greeted by too many backslaps by the Crusaders after the match, having left Read in a frustrated state for several mystifying penalties in the middle of the second half.
Both were for ruck infringements and although Read tried to get some valid reasons from Peyper he may as well have tried to speak to a house cat. Eventually halfback Andy Ellis eventually marched up to tell his skipper it was a lost cause and they watched Steyn kick his sixth penalty.
Peyper also incited Read in the final minutes when he disallowed a try to Tom Taylor after linesman Pro Legoete ruled Carter had obstructed Bjorn Basson as he attempted to tackle Sam Whitelock.
At least Read's angry mood will have been tempered soon a few seconds later when replacement back Tom Marshall shredded some tackles to race 40m to score.
The Crusaders shot out of the gates from the opening whistle as their forwards ripped apart anything in blue on defence and in the breakdowns.
The sight of Read running a wicked angle didn't excite the frigid Bulls defenders, including opposite Pierre Spies, as they offered him a free ticket to the line in the eighth minute.
Having secured their own lineout ball after they were awarded a ruck penalty, the Crusaders backline stretched the Bulls defensive line and following a breakdown Read charged into the line from depth and exploited several turnstile tackles.
But their lead slowly disintegrated in the second spell as the Bulls hogged possession and Steyn kept the scoreboard clicking.
Having led 13-9 at halftime the Crusaders watched the margin be gobbled up and found themselves down 30-16 before beginning their spirited comeback.
In the final frenetic minutes they sliced the margin to just two points before a counter-attack two minutes into injury time broke down when Luke Whitelock spilled a pass.
Bulls 32 (Dean Greyling, Wynand Olivier tries; Morne Steyn 2 conv, 6 pen) Crusaders 30 (Kieran Read, Zac Guildford, Tom Marshall tries; Dan Carter 3 conv, pen, drop goal; Tom Taylor pen).