The Sharks ended a three-match losing streak when they beat defending Super Rugby champions the Highlanders 15-14 in Dunedin on Friday.
The home side were reduced to 14 men in the 12th minute after inside centre Jason Emery saw red for an aerial challenge on Willie Le Roux.
The Highlanders put in a valiant attempt to always remain within reach of the Sharks and could well have snatched the win, but Lima Sopoaga missed what would have been a match-winning drop-goal at the death.
Garth April's form off the tee was outstanding for the visitors as the young fly-half converted all five of his penalty attempts.
The visitors capitilised on the extra man advantage despite yellow cards for Stephan Lewies and JP Pietersen, and this 15-14 win almost certainly ressurects their season.
An early penalty for the home side allowed Lima Sopoaga to get the first points with an easy conversion to make the score 3-0.
Sopoaga came off very light after a blatant shoulder charge on scrum-half Cobus Reinach, referee Ben O’Keefe referred the incident to his TMO but with only a penalty for the visitors April stepped up to convert his first attempt of the match.
April was up once again with a penalty attempt to then hand the Sharks a 6-3 lead.
The contest then changed dramatically when Emery and Willie Le Roux contested for a high ball – Le Roux landing horribly on his neck after the Highlanders midfielder collided with the Sharks full-back. Emery saw red and the home side were down to 14 men about 12 minutes into the game.
Malakai Fekitoa was brought to ground dangerously by Sharks duo JP Pietersen and Keegan Daniel, resulting in Sopoaga getting an opportunity to level the scores, only for his kick – in similar fashion to an earlier attempt – to fall short with the last ten minutes approaching.
The Sharks dominating pack were dealt a huge blow just before half-time, when lock Stephan Lewies was sent to the sin bin for 10 minutes after committing a professional foul metres from their try line.
The visitors looked set to score the first try of the match early in the second half after a series of attacking phases brought them to within metres of the Highlanders try line, but they had to settle for a penalty as April yet again extended the Sharks' lead to 9-3.
Sopoaga added the defending champions' first points of the second half with a 48th minute penalty, reducing the Sharks lead to just three points with the score on 9-6, before the visitors were back down to 14 men.
Springbok back JP Pietersen was yellow carded for a cynical foul – while laying on the ground he tackled scrum-half Aaron Smith – and Sopoaga levelled the scores with the subsequent penalty.
April, however responded off the tee to put the Sharks back into the lead as the final quarter of the match approached.
At last the Highlanders produced the game's first try, Matt Faddes dotting down in the corner to the delight of the home crowd. The right winger ducked under an attempted Le Roux tackle, stretching out to score the only five pointer of the match.
The subsequent conversion was however was missed but the home side were back in the lead for the first time since the second minute.
April though wouldn't be denied, a long passage of play camped in the Highlanders' 22 ending with a penalty as the youngster stepped up and handed the visitors a slender one-point lead going into the last five minutes.
Despite a valiant effort from the Highlanders in the final minutes, including an impressive break from Liam Squire, the Sharks recorded a much-needed confidence 15-14 victory.
Pens: Sopoaga 3
Red Card: Emery
Pens: April 5
Yellow Cards: Lewies, JP Pietersen
Highlanders: 15 Ben Smith (cc), 14 Matt Faddes, 13 Malakai Fekitoa, 12 Jason Emery, 11 Jack Wilson, 10 Lima Sopoaga, 9 Aaron Smith, 8 Liam Squire, 7 Shane Christie (cc), 6 Elliot Dixon, 5 Joe Wheeler, 4 Tom Franklin, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown
Replacements: 16 Liam Coltman, 17 Craig Millar, 18 Ross Geldenhuys, 19 Alex Ainley, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Fumiaki Tanaka, 22 Hayden Parker, 23 Patrick Osborne
Sharks: 15 Willie Le Roux, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 JP Pietersen, 12 Andre Esterhuizen, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Garth April, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Stephan Lewies, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Tendai Mtawarira (c)
Replacements: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Hyron Andrews, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Michael Claassens, 22 Joe Pietersen, 23 S’bura Sithole
Referee: Ben O’Keefe
Assistant Referees: Mike Fraser, Kane McBride
TMO: Shane McDermott