The Sharks returned to the top of the Absa Currie Cup Premier Division standings with one round remaining while as many as four of the six sides will go into the final weekend's matches knowing that defeat could mean a do-or-die promotion-relegation clash against the Eastern Province Kings.
The Vodacom Blue Bulls climbed off the bottom of the table on Friday night when they beat DHL Western Province 26-13 at Loftus Versfeld in the weekend's first match, to move to 18 points.
But by Saturday night the men from Pretoria found themselves in last place once again – albeit on points difference – after a come-from-behind win for GWK Griquas earlier in the day and a late losing bonus point for the Toyota Free State Cheetahs in the final game of the round.
Griquas beat defending champions the MTN Golden Lions 37-21 at GWK Park in Kimberley to move to 20 points, two ahead of the Blue Bulls and Cheetahs, who went down 37-30 to the Sharks at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein but grabbed what may yet turn out to be two crucial log points in the process.
Vodacom Blue Bulls (11) 26 DHL Western Province (3) 13
It wasn’t pretty, but it sure was effective as the Vodacom Blue Bulls bludgeoned their way to victory over DHL Western Province at Loftus Versfeld to keep not only their semi-final hopes alive, but also hopes of avoiding a dreaded promotion-relegation match against the EP Kings.
In the process, the Blue Bulls stopped Allister Coetzee’s teams from posting a clean sweep over their northern rivals this year, after the Cape side won both Vodacom Super Rugby fixtures as well as the first-round match at Newlands.
But on Friday night the Bulls needed a win. Facing the spectre of possible relegation, the home side were desperate and determined, and showed their single-mindedness by not even bothering to look for a bonus point for tries.
Led from the front by captain Dewald Potgieter, the Blue Bulls showed intense purpose as they met every single Western Province drive head on, and drove them back, while hammering at the much-vaunted WP defence which leaked only one try, to Akona Ndungane.
From there on coach Pine Pienaar's men were ahead and intent on keeping it that way. Every opportunity they got close to the line, they left Louis Fouchè to kick at posts. And while the flyhalf’s options were sometimes found wanting, his kicking at posts was top drawer.
Referee Jonathan Kaplan awarded a penalty try after the Blue Bulls collapsed a maul for the third time late in the second half, opening a glimmer of hope for the visitors, but the hosts soon closed that loophole with two late penalties to seal the game.
Blue Bulls – Try: Akona Ndungane. Penalties: Louis Fouchè (7).
WP – Try: Penalty try. Conversion: Demetri Catrakilis. Penalties: Catrakilis (2).
GWK Griquas (14) 37 MTN Golden Lions (18) 21
Rocco Jansen grabbed a brace of tries as GWK Griquas kept alive their hopes of a place in the semi-finals with a feisty bonus-point victory over the MTN Golden Lions at GWK Park.
Both scores by the sprightly winger were from turnovers, the first particularly impressive, with the hosts turning a four-point deficit at the break into a 16-point win at the end of a physical encounter in the diamond city.
The five-point haul enabled Griquas to move into fourth place, while the table-topping Lions, who in the process suffered a second loss of the season to Pote Human’s side, slipped to second but are still assured of a home semi.
Butch James put the Lions in front with a penalty before Cobus Grobbelaar and Michael Rhodes scored tries to put the visitors in control.
Griquas finally found their stride just before the half-hour when prop Lourens Adriaanse powered his way over from a lineout while Leon Karemaker got their second three minutes before the break.
Francois Brummer stroked over a penalty after 54 minutes to give Griquas the lead for the first time, before the flyhalf booted downfield for Jansen to chase down expertly.
James and Brummer exchanged further penalties, before Griquas grabbed a late bonus point when Jansen sped down the left from inside his own half after another turnover to seal the win.
Griquas – Tries: Rocco Jansen (2), Lourens Adriaanse, Leon Karemaker. Conversions: Francois Brummer (4). Penalties: Brummer (3).
Lions – Tries: Michael Rhodes, Cobus Grobbelaar. Conversion: Butch James. Penalties: James (3).
Toyota Free State Cheetahs (10) 30 Sharks (15) 37
Odwa Ndungane scored twice as the Sharks moved to the top of the standings with victory over the Toyota Free State Cheetahs at the Free State Stadium.
Left wing Ndungane dotted down twice in the opening half as the Sharks secured a bonus-point win to take a two-point lead over the MTN Golden Lions at the top of the table.
The Cheetahs managed a late bonus point, for losing by fewer than seven points, to move to fifth and push the Vodacom Blue Bulls to the bottom of the log on points difference.
The Cheetahs dominated the first quarter and they took advantage of some listless Sharks defending to gallop into a 10-0 lead after 11 minutes. The Sharks would go on to miss 24 tackles in the first half.
Right wing Nico Scheepers opened the scoring for the hosts with an early penalty before wing Raymond Rhule showed pace and strength to step inside the defence.
The Sharks stopped the bleeding courtesy of a penalty from flyhalf Meyer Bosman in the 16th minute before the visitors clawed their way back into the contest thanks to Ndungane.
The Sharks made a magnificent start to the second half when they scored straight from the kick-off through centre Paul Jordaan. Scheepers and Bosman traded penalties before the Cheetahs narrowed the gap in the 54th minute when scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius scored.
A Scheepers penalty with 13 minutes to play cut the deficit to just two points but the Sharks wrapped up the match in the 71st minute when flanker Jacques Botes was mauled over.
Cheetahs – Tries: Sarel Pretorius, Raymond Rhule (2). Conversions: Nico Scheepers (2), Tewis de Bruyn. Penalties: Scheepers (3).
Sharks – Tries: Paul Jordaan, Odwa Ndungane (2), Kyle Cooper, Jacques Botes. Conversions: Meyer Bosman (3). Penalties: Bosman (2).