JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – Sharks scored seven tries to demolish Cheetahs 50-26 in Durban Saturday and reach the top of the South African Currie Cup table.
A bonus-point victory brought the Durban side level with title-holders Western Province on 24 points and they have a superior points difference.
Lions rose one place to third by outscoring Bulls five tries to four en route to a 35-26 Highveld derby triumph in Johannesburg.
The Johannesburg outfit have 20 points, Cheetahs 16, Bulls 11 and Griquas 10 with three league rounds left, and the top four finishers qualify for the semi-finals.
Sharks were ahead within three minutes at Kings Park, led 26-16 by half-time, and scored the bonus-point fourth try five minutes into the second half.
The 2011 and 2012 runners-up welcomed back discarded Springboks Rugby Championship squad flanker Marcell Coetzee and he was voted man of the match.
Young fly-half Fred Zeilinga was another candidate for the award, contributing 15 points with the boot and playing a pivotal role in the first three tries.
Sharks starred at scrum time, reducing the Cheetahs pack to a retreating mess many times, and were more clinical and less error prone than Cheetahs.
They also made some crucial early second-half turnovers when under pressure after the Bloemfontein visitors cut the deficit to seven points.
Left-wing Lwazi Mvovo scored two tries for Sharks and full-back SP Marais, centres Heimar Williams and Tim Whitehead, No. 8 Keegan Daniel and substitute scrum-half Cobus Reinach one each.
Zeilinga, who rotates with 2007 Rugby World Cup winner Butch James in the playmaker role, slotted three conversions and three penalties.
Right-wing Riaan Smit landed all six shots at goal for Cheetahs -- two conversions and four penalties -- and moved to the top of the Currie Cup scorers' charts.
Cheetahs tries came from Ghana-born left-wing Raymond Rhule, who has not recaptured his superb form of last season, and replacement hooker AJ le Roux.
Lions should have been much further ahead than 13-7 by half-time at Ellis Park as they ran at every opportunity against rivals twice reduced to 14 men by yellow cards.
But a dominant third quarter from the 2011 champions delivered tries by props Ruan Dreyer and Jacques van Rooyen and full-back Marnitz Boshoff to build a 32-14 advantage.
Bulls hit back and a late try by another Springboks reject, left-wing Bjorn Basson, gave the Pretoria outfit a four-try bonus point that lifted them off the bottom.
Right-wing Andries Coetzee and flank Jaco Kriel were Lions' other try scorers, and fly-half Elton Jantjies kicked two conversions and a penalty and Boshoff a penalty.
Basson (two), scrum-half Rudy Paige and centre Francois Venter crossed the try-line for Bulls and fly-half Tony Jantjies, a younger brother of Elton, slotted three conversions.
Province survived several minutes of intense post-siren pressure from Griquas pressure Friday to win 19-13 at a freezing, rain-lashed Newlands stadium Cape Town.