DURBAN, South Africa - The Sharks' hopes of finishing atop the Super Rugby ladder suffered a setback yesterday as the Stormers scored a last-gasp drop goal for a shock 21-19 away victory.
Fullback Jaco Taute, a player not known for his drop kicking ability, landed the game breaker 20 seconds into stoppage time to stun the predominantly Sharks-supporting crowd at Kings Park stadium in Durban.
The Sharks scored first in the South African derby, led 16-9 at th break and never trailed until the last kick of the game gave the 11th-place visitors four unexpected points.
A losing bonus point lifted the Sharks to 45 points, keeping them two points clear of the Waratahs and four ahead of record seven-time title-holders the Crusaders.
However, the Durban outfit will drop to third if the Australians and New Zealand conference leaders win games in hand at the end of June.
"We face a difficult finish to the league season with away games against the Cheetahs and Stormers," admitted Sharks hooker and skipper Bismarck du Plessis.
"South African derbies are always tough and these matches will be no different. However, we need victories if we are going to finish first in the league."
Although a late season revival by the Stormers marked them as dangerous opponents, Sharks were favoured having returned from away victories over the Crusaders and the Blues.
But it soon became apparent that, as with so many South African derbies, the match would develop into an arm wrestle with goal-kicking a key factor.
The sin-bin chair is becoming well known to South African players and this match was no exception.
Stormers flanker Nizaam Carr got a yellow card after 10 minutes, but his side scored three points and conceded none during his absence.
Another flanker, Sharks' Marcell Coetzee, was temporarily expelled midway through the second half, and the Sharks had a four-point lead trimmed to just one while he was missing.
Sharks centre Francois Steyn and Stormers fly-half Kurt Coleman potted three penalties each before a converted try just before half-time by scrum-half Cobus Reinach gave the hosts a seven-point advantage.
After 64 minutes, the lead was down to 19-18 after Steyn kicked another penalty and Coleman and his replacement, Demetri Catrakilis (twice) slotted penalties.
Steyn failed with two further penalties -- one rebounding off the crossbar -- before a Stormers surge into Sharks' territory created the chance for Taute to become the unexpected match-winner.