The Sharks are unlikely to host a Super Rugby semi-final after losing 27-20 to the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein, writes SIMON BORCHARDT.
Two consecutive defeats to South African opposition have seen Jake White's side slip from first to third on the combined log. To finish second, they will need to beat the Stormers at Newlands next weekend and hope that the Crusaders slip up against the Highlanders in Christchurch. If that doesn't happen, and it won't based on recent form, the Sharks will host a wildcard play-off and then have to travel to Australasia for a semi-final, if they get that far.
The Cheetahs came into this match rooted to the bottom of the combined log, with just three wins from 14 matches, but looked like a team with everything to play for.
They raced into a 10-0 lead when a Johan Goosen penalty was followed by an outstanding forwards try. After winning a lineout 30m out, the Cheetahs expertly mauled their way to the tryline, with Torsten van Jaarsveld going over.
Tim Swiel had missed his first penalty attempt early on, but got the Sharks on the board with his second. The visitors struck again when they won a lineout from halfway and Cobus Reinach broke away, outstripping half a dozen defenders to score one of the best individual tries of the season. Swiel kicked the conversion and then added a penalty to put his side 13-10 up.
That lead didn't last long, though, as a patient attack from the Cheetahs' forwards resulted in a try for Philip van der Walt. The hosts then defended well after the half-time hooter, winning a pressure-relieving penalty at the breakdown.
Lood de Jager gave the Cheetahs an 11-point lead eight minutes into the second half, when he barged over the tryline, and Goosen's second penalty meant the Sharks had to score three times.
They were only able to do so once, though, when Bismarck du Plessis went over from a lineout driving maul with five minutes to go to make it 27-20.
The Sharks pushed hard for another converted try, which would have given them two log points for the draw, but Tonderai Chavhanga was tackled into touch by Ryno Benjamin after the hooter, which meant they had to settle for just one.
Cheetahs – Tries: Torsten van Jaarsveld, Philip van der Walt, Lood de Jager. Conversions: Johan Goosen (3). Penalties: Goosen (2).
Sharks – Tries: Cobus Reinach, Bismarck du Plessis. Conversions: Tim Swiel (2). Penalties: Swiel (2).
Cheetahs – 15 Willie le Roux, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Ryno Benjamin, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Johan Goosen, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Philip van der Walt, 7 Teboho Mohoje, 6 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lood de Jager, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Trevor Nyakane.
Subs: 16 Caylib Oosthuizen, 17 Luan de Bruin, 18 Carl Wegner, 19 Jean Cook, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Elgar Watts, 23 Hennie Daniller.
Sharks – 15 SP Marais, 14 JP Pietersen, 13 S'bura Sithole, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Tim Swiel, 9 Cobus Reinach, 8 Tera Mtembu, 7 Jean Deysel (c), 6 Marcell Coetzee, 5 Anton Bresler, 4 Stephan Lewies, 3 Lourens Adriaanse, 2 Kyle Cooper, 1 Dale Chadwick.
Subs: 16 Thomas du Toit, 17 Bismarck du Plessis, 18 Jannie du Plessis, 19 Willem Alberts, 20 Ettiene Oosthuizen, 21 Charl McLeod, 22 Odwa Ndungane, 23 Tonderai Chavhanga.
LEATHERMAN SA PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Cheetahs flanker Teboho Mohoje was excellent at the lineout, taking five of his side's throw-ins and stealing one of the Sharks'. He also made 12 tackles, more than any player on the field.
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