DURBAN, South Africa - The Highlanders stunned the listless Sharks 34-18 in one of the upsets of the season to tighten up the top half of the Super Rugby table yesterday.
The visitors scored four tries to none in Durban, hammering the competition leaders in most aspects of the game to climb to fifth place midway through round 11 with a five win-three loss record.
A second loss from nine games for the Sharks sees their advantage over the second-placed ACT Brumbies remain at just one point, with a four-match Australasian tour beginning next week.
An error-ridden performance was ruthlessly exposed by the Highlanders who matched the home side's vaunted pack and outplayed them tactically through a superior kicking game from halves Aaron Smith and Lima Sopoaga.
Highlanders fullback Ben Smith and centre Malakai Fekitoa were the game's most potent runners, with Fekitoa surging 50m for a brilliant solo try to secure a bonus point 10min from the end.
By contrast, the Sharks were bereft of attacking ideas, relying on six penalties from five-eighth Tim Swiel.
Sopoaga landed all his six shots to lifts him past Lions counterpart Marnitz Boshoff to a competition-leading 123 points for the season.