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Super Rugby: Sharks extend lead at summit with 19-8 win over Cheetahs
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Sharks retained their place at the Super Rugby summit with a 19-8 victory over the Cheetahs at Kings Parks in Durban on Saturday.
With defending champions Chiefs squandering their opportunity to take top spot earlier in the day - losing 17-18 to rivals Crusaders at the Waikato Stadium - Jake White's side extended their league lead to six points.
Neither side were able to seize control of the tie early on with just a penalty apiece from Elgar Watts and Tim Swiel after a scrappy opening period.
Following the restart Francois Steyn assumed kicking duties after an erratic first-half display from Swiel and kicked the Sharks into the lead before a yellow card for Heinrich Brussow opened the game up.
Despite being down to 14 men it was the Cheetahs who scored the opening try of the match as Rayno Benjamin snapped up a loose ball to race home, only for the Sharks to respond moments later as Jean Deysel crossed to secure victory for the hosts.
In a slovenly start to the match, Swiel squandered an early opportunity to get the Sharks on the board, but opposite number Watts made no such mistake from the ticking tee as he sent the Cheetahs into the lead.
When Sharks debutant Tonderai Chavhanga was taken out late as he surged down the left flank, Sharks fly-half Swiel slotted home the penalty as parity was restored.
The hosts started to apply pressure on the Cheetahs defence but a missed drop-goal attempt and another miss-hit penalty from Swiel meant they went into the break locked at 3-3.
White's Sharks made a far more assured start to the second half as they broke into Cheetahs territory before claiming a penalty at the scrum, which was duly converted by Steyn.
A second collapsed scrum from the Cheetahs allowed Steyn, who offered a greater degree of accuracy than teammate Swiel, to extend the hosts' lead to six points from 45 metres out.
Sharks remained in the ascendancy as they enjoyed a period camped in the Cheetahs' 22 before Brussow was sent to the sin bin for killing the ball.
Brussow's temporary departure handed Springbok international Steyn a chance to bisect the uprights once more and give the hosts a 12-3 lead with 20 minutes to play.
The game eventually peaked in the closing 15 minutes as Cheetahs full-back Hennie Daniller charged down a sluggish clearance from Steyn.
Benjamin, posted at inside centre as opposed to his preferred wing berth, seized the loose ball and raced home the first try of the match, but Watts failed to pull the Cheetahs within two as his conversion dropped short of the posts.
The Sharks' riposte came in the form a clever show-and-go from Swiel and when the half-back was stopped just short of the line, flanker Deysel gathered the ball to power over the whitewash for his first try in 60 appearances.
Steyn made light work of a simple conversion to give the Sharks a 19-8 lead heading into the final 10 minutes of the match.
The Cheetahs attempted to wrestle their way into Sharks territory but their efforts only led to a penalty for the home side, which Steyn failed to put away as the klaxon sounded.
A third successive victory sees the Sharks move six points clear of the Brumbies and Chiefs, who remain level on 25 points each.Rugby Union Live. Click here to bet.