Durban - The Free State XV were left to rue missed kicks at goal, as they were beaten 34-33 by the Sharks XV in a thrilling Vodacom Cup clash at Kings Park on Saturday.
The Sharks XV scored two late tries to seal the tightest of wins.
Sibusiso “Sburra” Sithole and Franco Marais both dotted down in the last 10 minutes for the hosts, who also had the trusty boot of flyhalf Fred Zeilinga to thank. He slotted all his kicks in the windy conditions, which proved crucial in the end.
The visitors did claim two bonus points for their efforts, as Freddie Ngoza scored their fourth try on the final whistle.
After a penalty apiece in the first 10 minutes, Sharks left wing Sizo Maseko opened the try-scoring when he finished off good work from the backline in the 12th minute, and Zeilinga added the conversion.
The Free Staters hit back soon after, as Rossouw de Klerk rumbled over in the 19th minute. Tewis de Bruyn missed the conversion, but slotted a penalty five minutes later as the visitors took the lead.
Another penalty for the Sharks XV saw them regain the advantage, but a wonderful team try in the 32nd minute by Joubert Engelbrecht regained the lead for the Free Staters. Several of his team-mates, especially the elusive Eddie Fredericks, were involved in the build-up to an excellent team effort.
The Sharks hit back three minutes before the break, as Zeilinga sliced through the visiting side, and then converted his own try to take the half-time lead (20-18).
Free State back-rower Elandre Huggett sneaked over for their third try just after the restart, when he finished off a steady phase of probing by the pack. De Bruyn missed the conversion, but the visitors led 23-20 after an hour.
The Free State side crucially missed two penalties in quick succession, but De Bruyn did stretch the lead to six points when he slotted a penalty in the 72nd minute.
The Sharks, however, found the space to get Sithole in at the corner a minute later, with a television replay confirming that he had sneaked in.
Zeilinga slotted the conversion from the touchline, to nudge the hosts back in front by one point.
Replacement hooker Marais then powered his way over from a ruck to seal victory. Ngoza scored a last-gasp try for the Free State XV, who earned a deserved pair of bonus points - one for scoring four tries, and the other for losing by less than seven points.
Tries: Sizo Maseko, Fred Zeilinga, Sburra Sithole, Franco Marais
Conversions: Zeilinga (4)
Penalties: Zeilinga (2)
Free State XV:
Tries: Rossouw de Klerk, Joubert Engelbrecht, Elandre Huggett, Freddie Ngoza
Conversions: Tewis de Bruyn (2)
Penalties: De Bruyn (3)
Vodacom Cup results this weekend:
Pampas 45-26 Border Bulldogs
Boland Cavaliers 12-44 South Western Districts
Sharks XV 34-33 Free State XV
Limpopo 5-124 Griquas
Pumas 64-7 Griffons
Golden Lions 26-54 Blue Bulls
Friday:Eastern Province Kings 18-43 Western Province
Leopards XV 47-16 Falcons