A blinding run from centre Marius Joubert in the dying minutes saved the Sharks as the defending Currie Cup champions clinched a 23-22 win over the Pumas in Nelspruit on Friday night.
Last season the Pumas had recorded a 22-21 victory over the Blue Bulls at the same Mbombela Stadium, but this time their defences broke within sight of another upset win.
The first half evolved into a battle of the flyhalves.
The Pumas took the early lead when Tiaan Marx slotted a penalty in the sixth minute, but French international Frederic Michalak levelled the scores three minutes later, setting the tone for the first half hour.
Each time the Pumas pulled three points clear through Marx, the Sharks drew level via Michalak, with the scores even at 9-9 after 30 minutes.
The Pumas were unable to capitalise on a few brief forays into the Sharks’ half before the visitors surged forward.
The home team’s defence worked hard to hold them off, but the defending champions eventually broke through when Michalak went over in the 32nd minute before converting his own try.
Three minutes later, however, the Pumas struck on the counter attack.
Coenie van Wyk caught the Sharks defence napping, and after a solo effort down the right wing, dotted down to narrow the gap.
Marx converted to level the scores, and could have snatched back the lead for the hosts two minutes later but sent a long range penalty, booted from within his own half, sailing wide of the posts.
He made up for it in the dying seconds before the break, however, with a successful kick that gave the hosts a 19-16 advantage after the first period.
Sensing weakness, perhaps, the Pumas returned from the break with purpose and Marx almost immediately stretched the advantage with a penalty.
Marx missed for the second time in the match in the 54th minute, but the Pumas would have been confident of holding the lead as they kept the visitors at bay.
The Sharks, though leaving it late, managed to draw ahead again with four minutes left on the clock.
Joubert broke down the right wing and offloaded to Michalak inches before the line as the Frenchman went over for his brace.
Michalak, who scored all the Sharks’ points, again converted to hand the visitors a nailbiting win.
Pumas: Tries: Coenie van Wyk. Conversions: Tiaan Marx. Penalties: Marx (5).
Sharks: Tries: Frederic Michalak (2). Conversions: Michalak (2). Penalties: Michalak (3). — Sapa