The Sharks started like a house on fire and then managed to hold off a determined Cheetahs side to secure a 43-34 victory in their Currie Cup clash at Kings Park on Saturday.
The home team started brightly, getting their hands through the tackle and keeping the ball alive well. They were rewarded when a sweeeping passing movement put right wing Mark Richards in some space and he finished off well stepping inside the last defender to open the scoring.
The Sharks followed that up with another try in the opening ten minutes when fullback Louis Ludik danced through a gap and got over under the poles after an extended period of pressure on the Cheetahs' tryline.
Cheetahs flyhalf Sias Ebersohn got his team on the scoreboard with an early penalty, but the Sharks scored two quick tries in reply - both coming from turnover ball.
The first was born when the ball popped out of a Cheetahs ruck and Stefan Terblanche hacked it ahead. The chasing Sharks players scooped it up and Jacques Botes was on hand to go over for the third try for the Durban team.
The home team had the bonus point wrapped up with just 20 minutes on the clock when left wing Sibusiso Sithole ran in a long range try after being put in a gap by scrumhalf Ross Cronje and they looked like they might run away with it.
The Cheetahs got a five-pointer of their own shortly afterwards when wing Riaan Smit intercepted a long pass on the Sharks 22 and cantered over for an easy try which made the score 26-10 to the hosts after 24 frenetic minutes of play.
The next try was straight out of the textbook as Botes got over for his second after a driving maul from an attacking line-out and the home team were firmly in the drivers seat as they took their lead to 31-10.
The Cheetahs hit back on the stroke of half-time when No.8 Boom Prinsloo finished off an 18-phase movement by edging the ball onto the line to make the score 31-17 to the Sharks at the break.
The beginning of the second half was fairly subdued by comparison and it started with Michalak stretching the lead with two penalties, but the Sharks struggled to keep the intensity up and ended up letting the Cheetahs back into the game.
It was the visitors who got the first try of the second half when tighthead prop WP Nel powered his way over from close range, and the conversion from Ebersohn brought them to within two converted tries of their hosts at 24-37.
The Sharks protected their lead with another penalty from Michalak but the visitors were the ones playing all the rugby as they continued fighting to get close.
The pressure eventually told and the Cheetahs clinched their bonus point in the 67th minute when outside centre Corne Uys scampered over in the corner. Ebersohn's conversion made it 31-40 to the Sharks, and the Cheetahs were within touching distance of their second bonus point.
Another penalty from the boot of Ebersohn brought the Cheetahs to within striking distance at 34-40, but that was erased by a similar effort from Michalak five minutes later and the Sharks managed to hold on at the end of the nine-try spectacle despite being unable to cross the whitewash in the second half.
Man of the match: It is tough to look beyond Sharks flyhalf Frederic Michalak who kept the scoreboard ticking from the kicking tee and looked to control the game with the ball in hand.
For the Sharks:
Tries: Richards, Ludik, Botes 2, Sithole
Cons: Michalak 3
Pens: Michalak 4
For the Cheetahs:
Tries: Smit, Prinsloo, Nel, Uys
Cons: Ebersohn 4
Pens: Ebersohn 2
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Mark Richards, 13 Stefan Terblanche, 12 Meyer Bosman, 11 Sibusiso Sithole, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Ross Cronje, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7 Marcell Coetzee, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Ross Skeate, 4 Anton Bresler, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Craig Burden, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Eugene van Staden, 18 Jan Andre Marais, 19 Francois Kleinhans, 20 Jacobus Reinach, 21 Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22 Marius Joubert.
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Corné Uys, 12 Andries Strauss (captain), 11 Rayno Benjamin, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Tewis de Bruyn, 8 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Pieter Labuschagne, 6 Johan Wessels, 5 Waltie Vermeulen, 4 Francois Uys, 3 WP Nel, 2 Michael van Vuuren, 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 Herkie Liebenberg, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Izak van der Westhuizen, 19 Pieter Myburgh, 20 Piet van Zyl, 21 Philip Snyman, 22 Philip Burger.
Referee: Jason Jaftha
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