THE Sharks survived an early scare as they found form in the second half to beat the Cheetahs 18-23 in Bloemfontein keeping them alive for another week.
The Sharks failed to secure a bonus point for four tries and played a very dangerous game as their discipline in the closing stages was so bad that they lost two players to the sin-bin and finished the match with 13 players on the field.
The result moves the Sharks back into the top six teams who qualify for the play offs although to keep that position they will need to beat the Lions and the Bulls over the coming weeks.
Two second half tries by wings Lwazi Mvovo and JP Pietersen saw the coastal side move past the Bulls and Waratahs on the competition’s log standings on 51 points in fifth place behind the Crusaders.
In a typically tough tussle between two arch rivals, it was clear early on that both sides had made some strategic adjustments to their game plans.
Sharks flyhalf Patrick Lambie’s sneaky short kick-off at the start of the match set the tone for what was to come as he tried to catch his hosts off-guard.
The Sharks were, however, the stunned team as the Cheetahs decided not deploy eighthman Ashley Johnson as a battering ram and instead used him as a decoy runner.
Despite struggling to find their way into Cheetahs territory, the Sharks opened the scoring with a penalty conversion by flyhalf Patrick Lambie.
Having earlier missed a kick at goal, the Free State squad responded with a try created by wing Riaan Viljoen who played brilliantly throughout.
Viljoen ran in a poorly directed line clearance and found space in midfield before off-loading to Johnson who flicked the ball on to try scoring specialist Sarel Pretorius.
Although the conversion attempt struck the upright, Cheetah spirits remained high for the rest of the first half.
Two breakdown infringements by Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis ensured that the home side enjoyed a 11-6 lead at the break.
As the second stanza got underway, the Sharks wasted no time in sending their surplus stars on to counter threats from Johnson, Pretorius and the Ebersohn twins were posing on the night.
Young flanker Johan Wessels was another dangerous man to contend with at the fiercely contested breakdowns.
After soaking up the pressure the Sharks managed to build some momentum, but were still making the most tackles.
Pietersen’s try put the Sharks 12 points clear of the Cheetahs who continued to fight to the final whistle.
Naka Drotske’s men, against all odds, nearly managed to cause another upset as the Sharks were reduced to 13-men through two yellow-cards but the Sharks held on to the ball and wound down the clock.
Cheetahs scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius won man of the match.
Final Score Cheetahs 18 Sharks 23
Tries – S Pretorius, R Viljoen
Pen – S Ebersohn 2
Con – S Ebersohn
Tries – L Mvovo, JP Pietersen
Pen – P Lambie 3
Con – P Lambie 2
Cards – C.McLeod (73rd min) Yellow, K Daniel.-superxv.com