The opening round of Super Rugby produced another upset on Saturday as the Cheetahs beat the Sharks 35-29 at Kings Park.
The impressive Cheetahs scored four tries – two in each half – to bag a bonus point as they claimed a rare win on the road.
The Cheetahs led 20-16 at the interval having outscored their hosts two tries to one in an entertaining first half. The team from Bloemfontein defied the pre-season predictions by putting on an excellent display, particularly up front, and were well-worth their lead.
The Cheetahs kept their noses in front in the second half but the game went down to the wire with Sharks denied a try by the TMO in the dying minutes.
They may have scored four tries but it was the Cheetahs' defence that really impressed, showing a massive improvement on last year's poor effort.
The Sharks will be concerned by their struggles at scrum time, and their inability to breach the Cheetahs' defensive line.
Sharks skipper Bismarck du Plessis withdrew at the last minute due to injury and his Springbok teammate, Cheetahs lock Lood de Jager was forced off inside the first 10 minutes with a broken elbow.
Sharks fly-half Pat Lambie, who took over the captaincy, opened the scoring from the kicking tee.
But the Cheetahs were first cross the whitewash as Willie le Roux's long pass wide to Jean Cook allowed flank to finish off a well-worked team try that was started by Coenie Oosthuizen and was just reward for some excellent handling by the visitors. Joe Pietersen added the conversion from the touchline.
Lambie's radar was dialled in and the Bok pivot could reduce the gap to a single point after Oupa Mohoje was penalised for not using the gate at a ruck.
Pietersen replied in kind after Cobus Reinach was caught offside but the Sharks were next to strike as Lambie latched onto Reinach's pass to finish after Tera Mtembu broke from the back of a scrum. Lambie converted his try.
The Cheetahs stuck straight back though as Willie Britz gathered a wayward kick from Kyle Cooper, beat a couple of defenders before passing to Sarel Pretorius who offloaded to Francois Venter, for the centre to score next to the uprights.
Pietersen's conversion put the Cheetahs 17-13 ahead before the opposing place-kickers exchanged penalties to finish the half.
Pietersen kept the scoreboard ticking after the break as he extended his team's lead at 23-16 when Lwazi Mvovo was penalised for holding onto the ball on the ground.
However high tackles by Francois Uys and Mohoje allowed Lambie to slot two more penalties to make it a one-point ballgame going into the final quarter.
A brave decision to opt for a line-out from a penalty set up the third Cheetahs try as replacement flank Boom Prinsloo crashed over as part of a rolling maul.
Crucially, the conversion was missed, leaving the Sharks within striking distance but the Cheetahs kept the pedal firm down, scoring a fourth try as Carl Wegner finished off good work from Pretorius and Prinsloo.
The Sharks kept their hopes alive as Mvovo finished off a patient build up in the corner. Lambie's touchline conversion brought the gap back to six points, setting up a grandstand finish.
Marcell Coetzee knocked-on over the line in the dying minutes and the Cheetahs were able to hold on as the home side threw the kitchen sink at them.
Tries: Lambie, Mvovo
Pens: Lambie 5
Tries: Cook, Venter, Prinsloo, Wegner
Cons: Pietersen 2, Du Plessis
Pens: Pietersen 3 Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 S’bura Sithole, 13 Waylon Murray, 12 Heimar Williams, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7 Renaldo Bothma, 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Mouritz Botha, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Tendai Mtawarira.
Replacements: 16 Monde Hadebe, 17 Dale Chadwick, 18 Matt Stevens, 19 Marco Wentzel, 20 Jean Deysel, 21 Conrad Hoffmann, 22 Fred Zeilinga, 23 Odwa Ndungane.
Cheetahs: 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Clayton Blommetjies, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Joe Pietersen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Willie Britz, 7 Oupa Mohoje, 6 Jean Cook, 5 Francois Uys (c), 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Danie Minnie
Replacements:16 Stephan Coetzee, 17 BG Uys, 18 Maks van Dyk, 19 Carl Wegner, 20 Boom Prinsloo, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 Willie du Plessis, 23 Cornal Hendricks
Venue: Kings Park, Durban
Referee: Andrew Lees (Australia)
Assistant referees: Rohan Hoffmann (Australia), Archie Sehlako (South Africa)
Television match officials: Marius Jonker (South Africa)