By Mark Gleeson
BLOEMFONTEIN, Feb 23 (Reuters) - The Sharks held off a late fightback from the Cheetahs to record a thrilling 29-22 victory in their Super Rugby encounter at the Free State Stadium on Saturday.
The visitors appeared to be in control of the game midway through the second half but two tries brought the Cheetahs back into the contest and, although they could not force the win, they did manage a losing bonus point.
The Sharks made the brighter start but it was the Cheetahs who got the first score. After Johan Goosen had missed an early penalty, an excellent rolling maul ended with number eight Philip van der Walt going over in the corner.
From that point on the visitors began to take charge, their loose forwards in particular dominating the breakdown area.
The pressure began to tell and the Sharks were handed a succession of penalties, with Pat Lambie landing three in seven minutes.
The Sharks extended their advantage when Goosen's error in knocking the ball into touch forced a lineout that was won by the Durban-based side and Lwazi Mvovo found a gap to ghost through for a try and give his team a 16-5 lead at halftime.
They extended that advantage with another try soon after the restart. Good ball from the lineout set up a rolling maul from five metres that ended with a try for Marcell Coetzee.
At that stage there looked only one likely winner, but the Cheetahs sparked into life and scored a try to close the gap.
Van der Walt produced a brilliant off-load as the team took the ball wide, with Pieter Labuschagne running in for the score.
Four minutes later the Cheetahs moved to within striking distance. As they moved the ball wide again, Johann Sadie spotted a gap between Tendai Mtawarira and Odwa Ndungane and raced to the line to score.
The Sharks refused to panic and slowed the game down, eventually winning a penalty in front of the posts that Lambie converted.
The Cheetahs were relentless in attack in the closing stages but the Sharks absorbed the pressure for what they will see as an excellent away win. (Editing by John Mehaffey)