Durban - Flank Jean Deysel scored his first Super Rugby try as leaders Sharks moved six points clear with a 19-8 victory over the Cheetahs on Saturday.
As it happened: Sharks v Cheetahs
The table toppers were four points ahead with nine minutes left at Kings Park in Durban when Deysel touched down at a ruck and Francois Steyn converted to seal the victory.
Sharks, seeking a first southern hemisphere inter-provincial championship title, were far from their best in an often scrappy game containing much aimless field kicking.
But the home side did get on top territorially in the second half with their scrum working effectively and Steyn made the Cheetahs pay for conceding penalties.
Sharks have 31 points and the Australian Brumbies and Chiefs 25 each with all three teams having played eight matches.
Cheetahs remain second last with just nine points and could drop to bottom place if Western Stormers defeat Golden Lions in another South African derby later Saturday.
The visitors were penalised just 15 seconds into the match, presenting fly-half Tim Swiel with a scoring chance he fluffed by pulling his kick left.
England-born Swiel recovered to make a promising break past several would-be tacklers only to lose possession close to the 22-metre line.
Cheetahs got their first chance to put points on the board after six minutes and fly-half Elgar Watts made no mistake from close range.
The team from Bloemfontein suffered a major blow just before the half hour when giant lock Lodewyk de Jager retired with a broken finger.
Sharks levelled on 32 minutes when Swiel - the fourth player to play fly-half for the Durban outfit this season - succeeded with his second penalty.
Home left-wing Tonderai Chavhanga, making his first Super Rugby appearance since 2010, limped off just before half-time with a suspected hamstring injury.
Swiel had a seemingly simple chance to nudge the Sharks ahead just before the break, but pulled his penalty wide of the left post to groans from the stand.
Steyn replaced Swiel as the goal-kicker after the break and slotted three consecutive kicks to take the Sharks 12-3 ahead just past the hour.
The third Steyn kick followed relentless pressure in which prop Tendai 'The Beast' Mtawarira figured prominently and Cheetahs flank Heinrich Brussow was yellow carded.
Steyn gifted the visitors a try on 66 minutes when his clearance was charged down by full-back Hennie Danillier and centre Rayno Benjamin grabbed the loose ball to go over.
Watts, who missed a penalty just before the try, saw his touchline conversion drop short to leave the Cheetahs 12-8 behind.
Sharks responded by going back on the offensive and when Swiel broke and was held up just short, a ruck developed and Deysel scored.
Steyn converted to maintain his perfect goal-kicking record in the match and the table toppers were 11 points ahead with eight minutes remaining.
The 2007 Springbok Rugby World Cup winner finally slipped up in the final minute as his most ambitious penalty length wise fell short.
15. Lwazi Mvovo, 14. Jaco van Tonder, 13. S’bura Sithole, 12. Frans Steyn, 11. Tonderai Chavhanga, 10. Tim Swiel, 9. Charl McLeod, 8. Keegan Daniel, 7. Jean Deysel, 6. Marcell Coetzee, 5. Stephan Lewies, 4. Willem Alberts, 3. Jannie du Plessis, 2. Bismarck du Plessis (captain), 1. Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16. Kyle Cooper, 17. Dale Chadwick, 18. Lourens Adriaanse, 19. Etienne Oosthuizen, 20. Ryan Kankowski, 21. Stefan Ungerer, 22. Heimar Williams, 23. SP Marais
15 Hennie Daniller, 14 Cornal Hendricks, 13 Johann Sadie, 12 Rayno Benjamin, 11 Willie le Roux, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Jean Cook, 7 Boom Prinsloo, 6 Heinrich Brüssow, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Lodewyk de Jager, 3 Nicolaas van Dyk, 2 Adriaan Strauss (captain), 1 Caylib Oosthuizen
Substitutes: 16 Ryno Barnes, 17 Trevor Nyakane, 18 Rossouw de Klerk, 19 Andries Ferreira, 20 Teboho Mohoje, 21 Shaun Venter, 22 Riaan Smith, 23 Raymond Rhule