Sharks pip the Cheetahs
A try in the second half from Louis Ludik clinched an 18-15 victory for the Sharks over the Cheetahs at Free State Stadium.
Ludik's try was the Sharks second of the match after Jean Deysel had provided them with a lifeline before the first-half hooter, with the first 40 minutes beating the second for quality as the Sharks made it back-to-back victories following their opening loss to Griquas.
The Cheetahs were narrowly pipped at Newlands a week before against Western Province and again found themselves on the wrong end of a narrow scoreline, despite dominating the first half.
Lappies Labuschagne and Raymond Rhule both picked up tries before the break after a penalty from Riaan Smit, but the Cheetahs were unable to break down the Sharks defence after the interval.
Trevor Nyakane made a low-key return to action after his ejection from the Springboks camp earlier this week, unable to help a scrum that worsened as the match progressed.
Smit opened the scoring with a penalty in the first minute after excellent pressure from hosts from the kick off, pinning the Sharks back near their own line.
Zeilinga responded with a 40-metre penalty before the 20-year-old dropped back into the pocket to slot a drop goal and put the Sharks into the lead.
The Cheetahs then took hold of the rhythm of the first half with a lengthy series of possession in the Sharks 22, resulting initially in the first try of the match for Labuschange as he burrowed over.
Smit's conversion ricocheted back off the post but the Cheetahs would score next, Rhule clearing up a rushed pass by gathering the ball and jinking his way through the Sharks defence for the game's second try, putting the hosts into a handsome 15-6 lead.
From there another momentum shift took place as the Sharks rallied, unleashing long periods of pressure and territory to win four penalties as the Cheetahs struggled to contain the rolling maul, with captain Boom Prinsloo sent to the bin.
Eventually the dam broke as Deysel barged his way in from a tapped penalty after the hooter, the Sharks trailing by just two points at half-time.
Lots of the early fluidity shown by both sides evaporated after the interval, as kicking and lineouts began to take their hold on the match.
Zeilinga missed a long-range penalty in the 56th minute that could have put his side back in front, as a litany of errors persisted to splinter the tempo of the second half.
A scoreless third quarter was followed by some well-executed handling by the Sharks down the left of the Cheetahs 22, Cobus Reinach dummying through the gap and passing onto Lwazi Mvovo, who laid the ball on to Ludik for what would prove to be the match-winning try - replacement Butch James missing the conversion.
The Cheetahs had begun to find holes in the Sharks defence heading into the final few minutes, but they were unable to find the key breakthrough when it mattered.
Their best chance came when Johann Sadie chipped through, but was then judged to have push Ludik off the ball in his frantic chase, conceding the penalty.
A stuttering lineout had been a growing issue for the Sharks throughout and it once again let them down as the hooter sounded, but the Cheetahs were unable to capitalise on their final series of possession - Brad Macleod-Henderson's side picking up vital away points as the Cheetahs are forced to reflect on a second narrow loss in six days.
Tries: Labuschagne, Rhule
Yellow Card: Prinsloo
Tries: Deysel, Ludik
Drop Goal: Zeilinga
Cheetahs: 15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Riaan Smit, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Robert Ebersohn, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Lappies Labuschagne, 6 Boom Prinsloo (c), 5 Lood de Jager, 4 Teboho Mohoje, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 2 Hercu Liebenberg, 1 Caylib Oosthuizen.
Replacements: 16 Ethienne Reynecke, 17 Rossouw de Klerk, 18 Freddie Ngoza, 19 Davon Raubenheimer, 20 Kevin Luiters, 21 Willie du Plessis, 22 Joubert Engelbrecht.
The Sharks: 15 SP Marais, 14 Sizo Maseko, 13 Louis Ludik, 12 Heimar Williams, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Charl McLeod, 8 Jacques Botes (capt), 7 Jean Deysel, 6 Keegan Daniel, 5 Marco Wentzel, 4 Edwin Hewitt, 3 Wiehahn Herbst, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: 16 Craig Burden, 17 Rayno Gerber, 18 Peet Marais, 19 Lubabalo Mtembu, 20 Cobus Reinach, 21 Butch James, 22 Jaco van Tonder.
Referee: Jason Jaftha