The Sharks moved to the top of the Currie Cup standings with a 37-30 bonus-point victory over the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
A late try from Raymond Rhule salvaged a bonus point for the home side to keep them off the bottom of the log, while the Sharks go into the final round of fixtures next week in pole position following their five-try effort.
The Cheetahs started the game in the worst possible fasion as Sarel Pretorius dropped the kick-off cold, but the little scrumhalf made up for it by stealing the ball at the base of the scrum and making a telling run which put his team in the Sharks' 22, and they were able to open the scoring shortly afterwards when Nico Scheepers slotted a penalty.
The hosts kept the pressure squarely on the Sharks and a moment of magic from Rhule put them firmly in the drivers seat with a 10-0 lead.
The elusive wing popped up in midfield on the Sharks' 22 and produced a massive step to glide through a gap between Meyer Bosman and Dale Chadwick to go over for a great try.
The Sharks got on the scoreboard soon afterwards when Bosman slotted a penalty after a powerful break by Jean Deysel into the Cheetahs' 22.
The Bloemfontein side were in desperate need of a victory to move off the bottom of the log and it showed as they took the game to the Sharks, forcing the visitors to make plenty of tackles in their own half.
However, the Sharks created some magic of their own when some good interplay between their wings Odwa Ndungane and JP Pietersen on the blindside saw Ndungane cruise over for a try which levelled the scores at 10-10.
After holding off another wave of spirited attack from the Cheetahs the Sharks piled the pressure on in the 22 and it was Ndungane who claimed the final offload to burst over for his second try which gave them a 15-10 lead.
Another break from Rhule from his own 22 saw the Cheetahs turn defence into attack, but they could not make it count as Scheepers pushed his penalty attempt wide and the Sharks took their five-point advantage into the break.
The Durban side started the second half with a bang as Ndungane sold Rhule a dummy before Keegan Daniel kicked ahead and a flying Paul Jordaan woon the race to the ball to go over for a slick try which left the Cheetahs chasing the game at 22-10 down.
The teams then exchanged penalties as the Sharks maintained their 12-point lead but it was the Cheetahs who struck the next meaningful blow when Pretorius darted over from close range to finish off an extended period of pressure in the opposition 22.
The Cheetahs continued to hammer away at the Sharks' defence and another Scheepers penalty saw them narrow the gap to 25-23 which set up a tense final ten minutes as the game hung in the balance.
A powerful driving maul took the Sharks deep into Cheetahs territory and it was flank Jacques Botes who managed to ground the ball on the line for the vital bonus-point try.
Scheepers had a late opportunity to salvage a bonus point fopr the Cheetahs, but pulled his attempt wide and there was more misery for his team as Sharks hooker Kyle Cooper forced his way over for a try next to the poles right at the death.
However, the home side showed great fighting spirit and they were duly rewarded when Rhule spun off a maul in the Sharks' 22 to score his second try which secured the vital bonus point for his team.
Man of the match: Raymond Rhule looked threatening every time he got the ball, but the most impressive player on the park was his opposite number Odwa Ndungane who showed his class with a well-rounded performance which saw him contribute far more than just his two tries.
For Free State Cheetahs:
Tries: Rhule 2, Pretorius
Cons: Scheepers 3
Pens: Scheepers 3
For the Sharks:
Tries: Ndungane 2, Jordaan, Botes, Cooper
Cons: Bosman 3, Viljoen
Pens: Bosman 2
Free State Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Nico Scheepers, 13 Robert Ebersohn (captain), 12 Andries Strauss, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Sias Ebersohn, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Phillip van der Walt, 7 Francois Uys, 6 Pieter Labuschagne, 5 Izak van der Westhuizen, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Marcel van der Merwe.
Replacements: 16 AJ Le Roux, 17 Brummer Badenhorst, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Davon Raubenheimer, 20 Tewis du Bruyn, 21 Phillip Snyman, 22 Phillip Burger.
Sharks: 15 Louis Ludik, 14 Odwa Ndungane, 13 Paul Jordaan, 12 Tim Whitehead, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Meyer Bosman, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Keegan Daniel (captain), 7. Jean Deysel, 6 Jacques Botes, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Jandré Marais, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Pieter Dixon, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Kyle Cooper, 17 Allan Dell, 18 Peet Marais, 19 Tera Mtembu, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Riaan Viljoen, 22 S'bura Sithole.
Referee: Jason Jaftha
Assistants: Joey Salmans, Marc van Zyl
TMO: Gerrie Coetzee
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