A brace of tries by Springbok winger Lwazi Mvovo helped the Sharks charge to the top of the Currie Cup table with a convincing 50-26 bonus-point victory over the Free State Cheetahs at Kings Park in Durban on Saturday.
The hosts crossed the whitewash seven times in total with SP Marais, Mvovo and Heimar Williams all going over during the first half.
Tim Whitehead, Mvovo, Keegan Daniel and Cobus Reinach added further tries after the break allowing the KwaZulu-Natal side to oust Western Province at the summit of the log by virtue of a superior points difference.
They started out with a bang by crossing for the opening try inside the opening 160 seconds.
After the visitors were on the defensive from an off-side call against Lappies Labuschagne, Fred Zeilinga looped over a pass to the left where a free Marais ran over.
Riaan Smit landed the first points for the Free Staters just after the 10-minute mark when Charl McLeod came in from the side.
The hosts secured their second try in the 14th minute after errors by Johann Sadie and Elgar Watts -- the former's kick charged down by Peet Marais and the latter allowing the straightforward rebound to roll through his legs.
Mvovo was the beneficiary after the subsequent scrum, collecting a pass from Zeilinga on the left, beating three tacklers and diving over.
Flyhalf Zeilinga again missed the conversion, but then knocked over his first points when a penalty was awarded against Davon Raubenheimer for not releasing.
Another Smit penalty followed, before the Sharks crossed for a third try after 24 minutes when Zeilinga slipped a pass outside to Williams to run in, once again on the left.
The confident Sharks number 10 added two more kicks, the conversion and a penalty for side entry by Lodewyk de Jager as the coastal outfit led comfortably 23-6 until the 31st minute when Raymond Rhule sped away down the left to score thanks to some quick hands in the Cheetahs midfield.
Zeilinga and Smit then exchanged further penalties before the break, when the Durbanites led by 10.
That was cut to seven straight after when Smit sent over another goal-kick when McLeod was offside.
Poor defending allowed Whitehead to land the bonus-point try after 45 minutes with the midfielder outpacing the forwards and darting in on the right.
The next score came almost 15 minutes later for the hosts as Mvovo ran onto a raking Kyle Cooper pass to score on the right.
Daniel added a sixth try with 12 minutes to play, the captain scoring after a strong attacking line-out five metres out, while Reinach added another following a strong Jaco van Tonder run.
AJ le Roux added a late try for the Cheetahs, but it was little consolation for Naka Drotske's men as their home semi-final hopes took a blow.
Final Score Sharks 50 (26) Free State Cheetahs 26 (16)
Tries: SP Marais, Lwazi Mvovo (2), Heimar Williams, Tim Whitehead, Keegan Daniel, Cobus Reinach
Conversions: Fred Zeilinga (3)
Penalties: Zeilinga (3).
Free State Cheetahs
Tries: Raymond Rhule, AJ le Roux
Conversions: Riaan Smit (2)
Penalties: Smit (4).
Referee: Marius Jonker
Assistant Referees: Tiaan Jonker, Reuben Rossouw
TMO: Deon van Blommestein
The Sharks: SP Marais; Odwa Ndungane, Tim Whitehead, Heimar Williams, Lwazi Mvovo; Fred Zeilinga, Charl McLeod; Keegan Daniel (capt), Tera Mtembu, Marcell Coetzee; Pieter-Steph du Toit, Peet Marais; Wiehahn Herbst, Kyle Cooper, Dale Chadwick.
Replacements: Monde Hadebe, Rayno Gerber, Edwin Hewitt, Brynard Stander, Cobus Reinach, Butch James, Jaco van Tonder.
Free State Cheetahs: Hennie Daniller; Riaan Smit, Johann Sadie, Robert Ebersohn, Raymond Rhule; Elgar Watts, Sarel Pretorius; Davon Raubenheimer, Pieter Labuschagne, Boom Prinsloo (capt); Waltie Vermeulen, Lood de Jager; Rossouw de Klerk, Hercu Liebenberg, Trevor Nyakane.
Replacements: AJ le Roux, Schalk van der Merwe, Teboho Mohoje, Philip van der Walt, Piet van Zyl, Ryno Benjamin, Willie du Plessis.