Centre Shaun Treeby, scrum half Aaron Smith and fly-half Colin Slade all crossed for tries as the Highlanders recorded their first win since beating the Auckland Blues on May 26 last season.
Slade missed four kicks at goal and the Sharks spent most of the final minutes camped in the Highlanders 22, but the home side bravely held with 14 men before forcing a turnover that brought the final whistle in the 83rd minute of a tense clash.
It was the Sharks who were down to 14 men first when winger JP Pietersen was sent to the sin bin in the seventh minute after a deliberate knock on from an offside position as the Highlanders sensed an early try.
Taking advantage of the extra man, Slade’s clever grubber kick in behind the Sharks defence fell to centre Treeby who touched down by the posts in the 10th minute.
The Sharks were quick to respond, using a South African strength catch and drive move from the lineout that sucked in Highlanders defenders close to their line before the ball was spread in field with Meyer Bosman touching down by the posts.
Patrick Lambie converted and added a penalty before the fly-half set up a second try in the 35th minute with a chip kick over the defence that Bosman collected and offloaded to winger Lwazi Mvovo, who outpaced fullback Ben Smith to the line.
Lambie missed the conversion but the Sharks went in to the break 15-7 ahead after Slade was wayward with another penalty.
The Highlanders sprang out of the traps at the start of the second period, probing in the Sharks 22 before Aaron Smith dived over for the home side’s second try when his quick tap penalty caught the visitors napping.
Slade finally found his range and slotted the conversion to cut the deficit to one and then added two tricky penalties to put Super Rugby’s bottom side ahead 20-15 in the 53rd minute.
Now playing with confidence, Slade then started and finished a brilliant move that resulted in the Highlanders third try.
The fly-half taking a high ball just inside his own half before offloading with Ben and Aaron Smith making telling breaks and passes before prop Chris King popped the ball free for Slade to sprint in.
Ten points down, the Sharks finally awoke.
The visitors went through a breathless spell of more than 26 phases before turning over the ball which the Highlanders hacked clear only for the Sharks to return it from their own half with Bosman on hand to crash over after more good recycling.
Lambie converted to cut the deficit to three with just over 15 minutes remaining and the Sharks racked up the pressure.
Twice the fly-half rejected the opportunity to kick for goal and level the scores after the Highlanders gave away penalties in their own 22, one of which forced lock Brad Thorn to the sin bin.
But despite the numerical disadvantage the Highlanders, who have struggled defensively this year, held on for the rare win.
Winger Cam Crawford scored a first-half hat-trick as Australia’s Waratahs went on a record scoring spree to thrash South Africa’s Southern Kings 72-10 in their Super Rugby match in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
The visitors ran in 11 tries – the first from Crawford after just 36 seconds – as they set a new competition record for the biggest wining margin by an away team with an overwhelming display of power rugby and backline running.
The rout featured six tries scored in the first half-hour with the Kings bewildered by the early onslaught and subsequently never in the game, their much vaunted defence splintered from the start by the pace of the Waratahs.
Crawford’s opening try came after a mazy run from fullback Israel Folau, who scored the second in the fifth minute with a clever burst through a gap in the leaky home defence.
The third try came from Crawford in the 15th minute as he stepped inside off the wing and held off the tacklers to stretch over the line to score.
A bonus point was secured four minutes later when lock Kane Douglas found himself free on the wing to dive over for his first Super Rugby score.
A jinking break from fly-half Bernard Foley set up a try for flanker Michael Hooper in the 25th minute and the home crowd were stunned into silence when Peter Betham went over for the sixth try in the 28th minute.
Crawford completed his hat-trick with four minutes still to play in the first half.
Southern Kings’ teenage winger Sergeal Petersen intercepted the ball to run some 40 metres for a consolation try that briefly lifted the sombre mood at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
However, the Waratahs added four more unanswered tries in the second half from captain Dave Dennis, Betham and substitutes Ben Volavola and Tom Kingston as they bettered by nine points the record away win the Blues achieved over the Hurricanes when they won 60-7 in Wellington in 2002.
The 72-point haul for Waratahs also equalled the record number of points in a Super Rugby match by an away team, set by the Chiefs in Johannesburg three years ago.
Crawford might have had a record-equalling four tries in the match on the hour mark but flanker Hooper was adjudged to have tackled an opponent without the ball in the build-up, ruling out the effort.
The result puts the Waratahs eighth on the ladder, two places outside the wildcard spots.
The Southern Kings are second-last, one point ahead of the Highlanders who have played one match fewer.
All Black centre Conrad Smith was knocked out and taken to hospital as South Africa’s Bulls blew past New Zealand’s Hurricanes 48-14 in a one-sided Super Rugby contest at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
The visitors lost their captain just before the half-hour mark when he came off worse in a tackle with JJ Engelbrecht and was carried off on a stretcher.
The fourth straight win for the Pretoria franchise lifted the Bulls to the top of the South African conference, two points ahead of the second-placed Cheetahs.
The Bulls have improved steadily as the season has gone on and captain Pierre Spies said their set-piece dominance had laid the platform for the latest win.
“It was a pretty good night for us, we had a good start and that created the foundation. We are putting a lot of focus on our set-pieces and having a lineout coach like Victor Matfield has really helped,” he told television reporters.
“We are now looking forward to a bye next week. It will be nice to sit-back and watch everybody else battle it out.”
Two Morne Steyn penalties had the Bulls in front early before they were gifted the opening try. Hurricanes prop Ben Franks attempted a long pass that was intercepted by Engelbrecht who coasted in for the score.
The home side’s second try was all about power as they took the lineout inside the Hurricanes 22 and mauled the ball over the line with ease, with flanker Deon Stegmann eventually emerging to claim the try.
That made the scoreline 20-0 with 15 minutes remaining in the half and it got worse for the visitors when Akona Ndungane secured another intercept try that was converted by Steyn.
The Hurricanes were out-muscled in the forwards and made too many handling errors among the backs in the first half but started the second period well as scrumhalf TJ Perenara finished off an excellent move that began with Steyn’s deep kick-off from the restart.
The Bulls secured their bonus point try when prop Dean Greyling powered over the line after good work from Bjorn Basson to break into the Hurricanes 22.
The forwards took over from the winger and although Greyling was tackled short, momentum took him over the line.
Perenara crossed for his second try before replacement wing Lionel Mapoe crossed for the Bulls’ fifth effort shortly after Hurricanes lock Jason Eaton was yellow-carded for taking out the support player at a line-out.
Louis Fouche scored a first Super Rugby five-pointer after being set up by Steyn, and then added the extra two points himself to round out the scoring.
“There were too many errors from our boys today, we also gave away too many penalties. It wasn’t the best day in the office for us set-piece wise either and the Bulls put a lot of pressure on us in our own half,” said Victor Vito, who replaced Smith as captain.