The Sharks overcame a nine-point deficit on their way to an 18-15 win (half-time 13-15) over the Toyota Free State Cheetahs in a scrappy Absa Currie Cup match at the Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on Friday.
The Sharks found themselves trailing 15-6 after 25 minutes but they scored the only points of the second half, through a try from centre Louis Ludik, to see off the Cheetahs and move to the top of the Currie Cup standings.
The Cheetahs would be left wondering how they let the match slip as they scored two tries in the first half and seemed to have the better of a Sharks team that was unable to sustain much momentum in the first half.
But the visitors, on the back of Ludik’s try and some desperate defence in the second half, managed to hold on for a vital away win.
Cheetahs right wing Riaan Smit and Sharks flyhalf Fred Zeilinga exchanged early penalties before the visitors enjoyed a fine period of play as they battered at the hosts' defensive lines.
The Sharks thought that they had scored in the ninth minute when loosehead prop Dale Chadwick crashed over from close range only for the TMO to correctly rule that an accidental off-side had contributed to Chadwick getting over the tryline.
The visitors had to be content with a Zeilinga drop goal four minutes later before the Cheetahs finally found some rhythm and began gaining the upper hand in the contest in what proved to be a see-saw first half.
The home team regained the lead, in the 21st minute, when industrious flank Lappies Labuschagne flopped over from close range after a period of sustained pressure from the Cheetahs saw the Sharks simply run out of defenders.
The Cheetahs were building up a good head of steam and they grabbed their second try just five minutes later after they took the ball through 10 phases before left wing Raymond Rhule scooped up an errant pass, five metres from the Sharks’ tryline, before jinking his way past four defenders on his way to a converted score.
The Sharks were trailing by nine points but they were given a way back into the match when Cheetahs flank, and captain, Boom Prinsloo was yellow-carded in the 32nd minute for infringing at a ruck on his own tryline after the hosts were given repeated warnings for professional fouls by referee Jason Jaftha.
However, the Sharks' inability to round off try-scoring opportunities continued to haunt them and it looked as if they would be unable to add to their score in the first half with Zeilinga being held up over the tryline by a wonderful last-ditch tackle from Cheetahs centre Robert Ebersohn.
But the Sharks finally made their numerical advantage count on the stroke of half time when flank Jean Deysel crashed over for a converted score after a quick tap penalty from the visitors five metres from the Cheetahs’ tryline.
The start of the second half was a scrappy affair with both teams battling to assert themselves while the scrums were a mess which resulted in a number of stoppages in play.
The Sharks were the first team to finally find a bit of continuity and they scored what turned out to be the winning points, in the 65th minute, when an incisive break from replacement scrumhalf Cobus Reinach spilt the Cheetahs defence.
Reinach popped a pass to wing Lwazi Mvovo, who shifted the ball to Ludik with the latter going over for an unconverted try.
TOYOTA FREE STATE CHEETAHS – Tries: Lappies Labuschagne, Raymond Rhule; Conversion: Riaan Smit; Penalty: Smit.
SHARKS – Tries: Jean Deysel, Louis Ludik; Conversion: Fred Zeilinga; Penalty: Zeilinga; Drop goal: Zeilinga.