The victory – which also saw the Irish province score tries in either half from prop Tom O’Toole and winger Robert Baloucoune – ensured that Ulster have gone 21 games unbeaten at home, equalling their previous record set in the early 2000s.
The visitors, with former Ulster player Ruan Pienaar in their ranks for his first competitive game since leaving the province in 2017, scored a second half try from full-back Clayton Bloometjies. Pienaar kicked the conversion and a penalty.
There were no further clear-cut scoring chances for either side until five minutes before half-time when Johnston slotted a penalty after the South Africans were punished for a high tackle.
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Ulster’s 10-0 lead was eaten into almost immediately by the Cheetahs, with Pienaar landing a 38th minute penalty.
The former Ulster great’s kick was the final score of the half, meaning Ulster led 10-3 at the midway point after a less than enthralling opening 40 minutes.
Seven minutes after the restart and with Cheetahs hooker Wilmar Arnoldi in the bin, Johnston’s cross-kick picked out Baloucoune on the right wing. Johnston then added a superb touchline conversion to stretch the lead to 17-3.
That became 20-3 on 59 minutes from Johnston’s second penalty.
Then six minutes after the hour, Sintu Manjezi intercepted a Jonny Stewart pass and though Ulster scrambled well, Cheetahs’ full-back Bloometjies scored out on the right with Pienaar slotting the extras.
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