Yellow card costs Cheetahs
The Sharks moved to the top of the Currie Cup standings with a thrilling 18-15 win over the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Friday.
The teams scored two tries each, with a Fred Zeilinga drop-goal early in the first half proving to be the difference.
While the Sharks' stay at the top may be short-lived, with two more games to come on Saturday, it is a result on road that will give the men from Durban great confidence going forward.
It was another match where the Cheetahs will rue the fact that they managed to run into a comfortable lead, only to let it slip in the final quarter.
The men from Bloemfontein held a 15-6 lead on the half-hour mark, but a yellow card to captain Johannes Prinsloo in the 32nd minute seemed to derail them.
The sin-binning itself will be cause of much debate, as Prinsloo was not responsible for the collapsed maul. However, referee Jason Jaftha, who seemed uncertain who the culprit was, but had already issued a general warning for repeated offence, showed the yellow card to the Cheetahs skipper.
The home team never recovered and the Sharks managed to claw their way back into the game - scoring a converted try right on half-time hooter, as well as the only points of the second half.
The 65th minute score by Louis Ludik , coming from a sniping break by replacement scrumhalf Cobus Reinach, handed the Sharks a lead they briefly held in the first half.
The visitors held their nerve, defended stoutly and secured four invaluable points on the table.
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 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 Pieter 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 the Cheetahs captain was yellow carded after a series of collapsed mauls near the home team's line.
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 penalties and a stop-start game.
The Sharks scored the only points of the half - which 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 Ludik going over for an unconverted try.
The Sharks then played a brilliant tactical game and forced the Cheetahs to attack from deep inside their half in search of a late winner.
It never came, as repeated errors cost the home team dearly.
Man of the match: Trevor Nyakane brought stability to the Cheetahs scrum and had his usual batch of carries - he even moved to loosehead prop in the second half. Robert Ebersohn's most impressive work was on defence, with Johan Sadie having a few useful runs. Pieter Labuschagne was his usual bustling self - especially his work on defence. Teboho Mohoje sowed why he was Varsity Cup player of the tournament and if he can continue like he played on his debut, he will go places - keep in mind he can play blindside flank as well. Fred Zeilinga looks like he may just live up to the hype created when he was still in the junior ranks, but it was by no means flawless - a few silly, aimless kicks mixed in with some really good play. Marco Wentzel was the rock among the tight forwards, while Louis Ludik produced the match-winning try with some great support running. However, our award goes to the Sharks' Springbok flank Jean Deysel, who not only carried strongly, but also won a couple of crucial turnovers.
For the Free State Cheetahs:
Tries: Labuschagne, Rhule
For the Sharks:
Tries: Deysel, Ludik
Yellow card: Johannes Prinsloo (Free State Cheetahs, 32 - repeated infringements, collapsing the maul)
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Boom Prinsloo (captain), 5 Lodewyk de Jager, 4 Teboho Mohoje, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Freddie Ngoza, 19 Davon Raubenheimer, 20 Kevin Luiters, 21 Willie du Plessis, 22 Joubert Engelbrecht.
Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Sizo Maseko, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Heimar Williams, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Jacques Botes (captain), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 Edwin Hewitt, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Peet Marais, 19 Tera Mtembu, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Butch James, 22 Jaco van Tonder.
Referee: Jason Jaftha
Assistant Referees: Jaco van Heerden, Pieter Janse van Vuuren
TMO: Deon van Blommestein