GARETH DUNCAN watched the Sharks secure top spot on the Currie Cup log after their 37-30 bonus-point win over the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein.
With the Golden Lions going down in Kimberley, the Sharks are now favourites to finish first in the standings ahead of the semi-finals. If they win their final league fixture against Griquas in Durban next weekend, they will have home-ground advantage for the play-offs.
Head coach John Plumtree will credit a slick attacking performance that helped his charges down the Cheetahs in their own backyard.
Wing Odwa Ndungane grabbed a brace, while outside centre Paul Jordaan, flank Jacques Botes and replacement hooker Kyle Cooper also crossed the chalk. Flyhalf Meyer Bosman added three conversions and two penalties in what finished as a comfortable win for the visitors
However, the Cheetahs caused some early concerns after they surged into an early 10-0 lead.
Wing Raymond Rhule continued his outstanding breakthrough season with an impressive individual try. Getting the ball at first receiver, the Baby Bok speedster showed great pace to skin Bosman and prop Dale Chadwick for an easy run to the whitewash. Wing Nico Scheepers added a conversion, and later converted a penalty.
The Sharks fought back as Ndungane capitalised on enterprising backline play and scored two tries.
His first came after smart interplay with Springbok wing JP Pietersen, who showed fine form in his comeback from a broken thumb suffered in the Super Rugby final. Ndungane’s second was a finish to a good team build-up.
Bosman added a conversion and penalty to secure the Sharks a 15-10 half-time lead.
The Durban union extended their advantage in the first minute of the second half as flank Keegan Daniel’s chip into space was collected by Jordaan.
The Cheetahs narrowed the gap with scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius’ score and Scheepers’ boot, but tries from Botes and Hooper sealed the result.
The Cheetahs grabbed a consolation losing bonus point as Rhule powered over at the death. This was enough to lift themselves off the bottom of the log with the Blue Bulls falling to last place.