Sharks left-winger Lwazi Mvovo makes a break during the game against the Stormers. Photo: Getty Images
SOUTH Africa's Sharks have criss-crossed the globe to reach the Super Rugby decider and now face one last, long journey to take on the Waikato-based Chiefs in the first final played in Hamilton.
The Sharks were forced to travel 11,000 kilometres from Durban to Brisbane for their quarter-final win over defending champion Queensland and, having passed that formidable obstacle, flew another 11,000 to Cape Town where, on Saturday, they beat the top-ranked Stormers 26-19.
Already travel-weary, the Sharks will this week rack up a further 11,000 kilometres to Auckland, followed by a 120-kilometre bus trip to Hamilton on NZ's North Island where the Chiefs lie in wait.
The Sharks defended with courage to hold out a late comeback by the Stormers, who seemed out of the match when J.P. Pietersen's try gave the Sharks a 14-point lead with 20 minutes remaining.
But Gio Aplon scored for the Stormers seven minutes later and the home team pressed relentlessly for the try that would have levelled the scores.
The visitors held on to complete an astonishing late-season comeback.
They seemed almost out of the reckoning with only weeks remaining in the regular season but they won three of their past four matches, beating both the Stormers and three-time champions the Bulls to grab the sixth and last play-off place.
They then toppled the Australian and South African conference winners to reach the final and must now beat the New Zealand conference champion to clinch their first title.
Coach John Plumtree said the Sharks had resolved during the break in the Super Rugby schedule for June Test matches to throw everything into a last-ditch bid to make the finals.
''The team started believing in themselves about 20 to 30 per cent more than when we were playing before the international break,'' Plumtree said.
''We were already playing knockout rugby, basically, several weeks ago so it hardened us, and the leadership grew with that. To go to Queensland and win last week and then come here to do it again was always going to be a huge task.''