Flyhalf Garth April kicked five penalties from five attempts to give the Durban-based Sharks a 15-14 win over the Highlanders Friday in one of the most contentious matches of the season in Super Rugby.
The defending champion Highlanders played the majority of the match with 14 men after losing center Jason Emery to a red card in the 13th minute for a reckless tackle on Sharks fullback Willie le Roux.
The Sharks lost two players — lock Stephan Lewies and center J.P. Pietersen to yellow cards — in a match marked by errors and fouls.
The Highlanders led 14-12 after winger Matt Faddes scored the only try of the match in the 58th minute, but April's fifth penalty reclaimed the lead for the Sharks.
The 24-year-old April made his starting debut for the Sharks on Friday after establishing himself at Gauteng, Boland and Western Province in South Africa's Currie Cup competition.
The win injected new life into the Sharks' flagging campaign and severely damaged the Highlanders' title defense, dealing them their second-straight loss on either side of a mid-season bye.
The Sharks were able to stay in contention through dogged defense and despite the sin-binning of Lewies immediately before halftime and Pietersen in the second half.
"After last week's disappointing loss the Blue the boys really deserved this one," Sharks captain Tendai Mtawarira said. "We've really been working hard and I think we stuck to our task today and came through."
Friday's defeat, after a loss to the last-place Queensland Reds, likely ends the Highlanders title defense.
"It was a tough game," Highlanders captain Ben Smith said. "I thought we defended pretty well. We had plenty of energy but we just got beaten by a better team at the end of the night."