The Sharks maintained their unbeaten record in the 2007 Super 14 competition when they fought hard for a 30-14 victory over a valiant Cheetahs outfit in their Round Six match in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The win saw the Sharks move into second place on the standings, three points behind the table-topping Blues, but with a game in hand.
Having started the season full of promise the Cheetahs seem to be fading fast as the weeks tick by, something that will cause great concern for coach Rassie Erasmus, and this was another prime example of their fall from grace.
It was, in part, the Cheetahs mistakes that gave the Sharks their first win in eight attempts over the men from the Free State capital, although as the game wore on the Sharks looked far sharper than their error riddled hosts.
With the majority of possession in the opening exchanges it was of little surprise that the Cheetahs opened the scoring, and even less surprising was the fact it was stand-out captain Juan Smith who crossed for the try. The score came as a result of pressure built over a series of tight phases in the Sharks 22. Smith eventually peeled off the back of a ruck to steam roll over John Smit to score with an outreaching arm.
The bright start proved to be something of a false dawn as the game descended into a tiresome kicking battle, interspersed with occasional errors, and the game continued that way for fifteen minutes. The Sharks though were gradually finding their feet on the highveld and soon leveled the scores.
Had it not been for the try the Sharks would have considered themselves hard done by, as there was a clear offside in a kickable position which the referee adjudged to be accidental, so the Sharks had to settle for a scrum. As it was this provided the platform for their well worked try, although Erasmus will be concerned at the ease with which the Cheetahs conceded from first phase.
A simple back row move which utilised the strong running of full-back Francois Steyn coming into the line allowed impressive Jacques Botes to stroll in under the posts. Ruan Pienaar added the extras and scores were level.
It wasn't long before the game began to drift again with yet more aimless kicking, broken only by a brace of Pienaar penalties that seemed to be enough to give the Sharks a half-time lead. That was until the outstanding Henro Scholtz burst into the Sharks 22 leaving the Sharks in tatters. Three quick phases later and Herkie Kruger was driven over for a converted score.
The second half was in stark contrast to the first as both sides looked to play a more attacking brand of rugby, although most of the promising breaks ended in basic errors or turnovers.
With thirty minutes to go and the game in the balance the Sharks began to take control, firstly through another simple first phase move. Again Steyn came into the line, broke it, and then off-loaded on his inside to Waylon Murray who had a simple run in.
As the gaps began to widen in a tired Cheetahs defence so did the number of Sharks line breaks increase, but once again they were blighted by an inability to finish moves of promise. And it was whilst the Cheetahs were looking for a route back into the game that the decisive moment arose.
Having pressed the Sharks line for close to ten minutes without any success the Cheetahs finally found themselves with a three man overlap. But as Flip van der Merwe slipped what would have been the telling pass the ever alert JP Pietersen snaffled the intercept and scorched eighty metres to seal the game.
With fifteen minutes left the Sharks had plenty of time to secure a bonus point try, that is had they wanted to.
They had a golden opportunity with a penalty on the Cheetahs 22 and just eight minutes on the clock, but rather than show a killer edge they opted to kick for goal. Take nothing away from Ruan Pienaar who landed a delightful kick, but one feels the Sharks would have been better placed to go for a bonus point.
Man of the Match: For the Cheetahs Henro Scholtz was head and shoulders above his team-mates, but the award goes to the Sharks. His try may have been born from luck rather than his own creativity but JP Pietersen was a live wire throughout the game. He regularly beat defenders in tight spaces and a try was just rewards for his efforts.
For the Cheetahs:
Tries: Smith, Kruger
Cons: De Waal 2
For the Sharks:
Tries: Botes, Murray, Pietersen
Cons: Pienaar 3
Pens: Pienaar 3
Cheetahs: 15 Tiger Mangweni, 14 Philip Burger, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Herkie Kruger, 11 Eddie Fredericks, 10 Willem de Waal, 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Ryno van der Merwe, 7 Juan Smith (c), 6 Henro Scholtz, 5 Corniel van Zyl, 4 Flip van der Merwe, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Richard Strauss, 1 Os du Randt.
Replacements: 16 Ollie le Roux, 17 Wiaan du Preez, 18 Dwayne Vermeulen, 19 Kabamba Floors, 20 Falie Oelschig, 21 Alwyn Hollenbach, 22 Gavin Passens
Sharks: 15 Francois Steyn, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Bradley Barritt, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Butch James, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 AJ Venter , 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Johann Muller, 4 Johan Ackermann, 3 BJ Botha, 2 John Smit (c), 1 Deon Carstens.
Replacements: 16 Bismarck du Plessis, 17 Beast Mtawarira, 18 Albert van den Berg, 19 Warren Britz, 20 Keegan Daniel, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Adrian Jacobs
Referee: JC Fortuin (South Africa)
Touch judges: Phillip Bosch (South Africa), Pro Legoete (South Africa)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Assessor: Tappe Henning (South Africa), Brendan McCormick (Australia)