Two disallowed tries for the Sharks proved their downfall on Saturday as the Waratahs' 16-12 win gave last year's finalists a huge shot in the arm.
Two disallowed tries for the Sharks proved their downfall on Saturday as the Waratahs' 16-12 victory gave last year's finalists a huge shot in the arm going into the final round of fixtures.
Both decisions occurred during the second period of a fragmented Durban clash – the first when Bismarck du Plessis was adjudged to have fumbled on the line before JP Pietersen found himself penalised for a double-movement.
And as is so often the case in sport, those blunders came back to haunt the perpetrator as Peter Playford's try fifteen minutes from the final whistle rubbed salt into the Sharks' wounds.
Coach John Plumtree had promptly recalled travelling centre Brad Barritt to his midfield due to Frans Steyn being ruled out. But the South Africans were also significantly boosted by playmaker Ruan Pienaar's injury comeback at ten.
In turn, the Waratahs knew that four points of their own would give them an improved chance of progressing from their pre-game position of seventh, as their final regular-season assignment is the Lions in Johannesburg.
Despite last weekend's strong front-row performance against the Highlanders, the hosts found themselves light by 50kg against the side that dumped them out of 2008's semi-final – and that weight advantage was evident during the opening exchanges as a patient maul took the 'Tahs 30 metres downfield.
There was also an interesting Springbok full-back subplot after Conrad Jantjes' ill-fated injury, with Stefan Terblanche almost putting his hand up to Peter de Villiers in what was looking like another assured performance.
But unfortunately for the streetwise veteran his air-shot late on gifted late call-up Playford the eventual match-winning score.
As expected it was cagey opening on what ultimately became a rain-sodden pitch, which arguably suited the Waratahs' somewhat limited brand. However, one could put the sluggish pace down to desperation of not losing play-off ground.
Frustrating passages continue to mar matters heading up to the half-hour, until an excellent passage saw Timana Tahu finish off his earlier good work thanks to solid offloading from forwards Phil Waugh and Benn Robinson.
Leading 3-8 and with the Sharks stifled, it was the ideal situation for the men from Sydney closing in on half time. However, when Pienaar closed the arrears to just two points moments before the break, one sensed the hosts would move up at least one gear after Plumtree's advice.
The hosts did come out firing after the turnaround and when scrum-half Luke Burgess was penalised for shielding Wycliff Palu at the base, the lead was the Sharks' at 9-8.
But side entry from the hosts meant that advantage lasted just three minutes as Halangahu pushed the Waratahs back in front before his side had their defence severely tested; with the disallowed scores infuriating the crowd.
And their sombre mood was not boosted soon after as Terblanche's covering mistake means that the Sharks must beat the Bulls next week to keep their Super 14 hopes alive.
Man of the match: Tireless flanker Ben Mowen must be sick of reports of Rocky Elsom's undecided future. But if the former keeps up this form he'll certainly take some shifting.
Pen: Pienaar 4
Tries: Tahu, Playford
Pen: Halangahu 2
Sharks: 15 Stefan Terblanche, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Bradley Barritt, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Ruan Pienaar, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller (c), 4 Steven Sykes, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 John Smit, 17 Deon Carstens, 18 Albert van den Berg, 19 Keegan Daniel, 20 Monty Dumond, 21 Riaan Swanepoel, 22 Luzuko Vulindlu.
Waratahs: 15 Lachie Turner, 14 Peter Playford, 13 Timana Tahu, 12 Kurtley Beale, 11 Lote Tuqiri, 10 Daniel Halangahu, 9 Luke Burgess, 8 Wycliff Palu, 7 Phil Waugh (c), 6 Ben Mowen, 5 Will Caldwell, 4 Dean Mumm, 3 Al Baxter, 2 Tatafu Polota-Nau, 1 Benn Robinson.
Replacements: 16 Damien Fitzpatrick, 17 Sekope Kepu, 18 Chris Thomson, 19 Luke Doherty, 20 Brett Sheehan, 21 Rob Horne, 22 Tom Carter.
Referee: Mark Lawrence (South Africa)
Touch judges: Joey Salmans (South Africa), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)