DURBAN: The Sharks recovered from a woeful first half to earn a place in the Super 15 play-offs with a 34-15 win over the Cheetahs at Kings Park on Saturday.
Sharks trailed 6-15 at half-time but scored 28 unanswered points after the break with four converted tries which earned them a bonus point and enabled them to climb above the Brumbies of Australia and New Zealand's Hurricanes into the play-off placings.
Needing to win their final league match by a minimum of five points to stay in the competition, Sharks failed to fire in the first half.
The Bloemfontein-based team led through five penalty goals by fly-half Riaan Smit against two by opposite number Frederic Michalak.
Sharks played with 14 men for 10 minutes after centre Francois Steyn was given a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Robert Ebersohn in the 18th minute.
The score was 3-3 when the incident happened and Cheetahs took advantage of their numerical advantage to stretch the lead to 9-3 while Steyn was off the field.
Springbok forwards Willem Alberts and Bismarck du Plessis were not in the Sharks' starting team but with the team struggling, Sharks coach John Plumtree sent both on before the break.
It was a transformed Sharks team that came out for the second half.
Flanker and captain Keegan Daniel scored a converted try four minutes after the break and Sharks went ahead and gained the crucial five-point advantage when wing JP Pietersen made a searing break before a diagonal chip kick set up a try for scrum-half Charl McLeoad, which Michalak converted.
Pietersen was involved again, chasing and catching a kick ahead by Michalak, in a move which ended with a try next to the posts for flank Marcell Coetzee.
Sharks made sure of victory when No 8 Ryan Kankowski scored their fourth try six minutes from time.
"It was a nerve-wracking 40 minutes, but we hung in there. I was proud of the way the boys came back in the second half," admitted Daniel.
Daniel said he did not mind whether Sharks had to travel to Brisbane to play Queensland Reds or to Christchurch to meet Canterbury Crusaders in the play-offs next weekend.
"In this competition you have to win anyway, whether you travel to New Zealand or Australia."
SHARKS 34 (Marcell Coetzee, Keegan Daniel, Ryan Kankowski, Charl McLeod tries Frederic Michalak 4 cons 2 pens) bt CHEETAHS 15 (Riaan Smit 5 pens) at ABSA Stadium. Referee: Jaco Peyper.