The Cheetahs showed passages of panache and power but needed a last-minute penalty from Frans Steyn to see off the Sharks 39-38 in their preparation series clash in Bloemfontein.
In what was a game of two halves, the Cheetahs were impressive in the first half, getting themselves into a 28-12 at the break.
With changes rung for the second stanza, the Sharks played directly and with some vision to pull back the game and a 69th minute try from Celimpilo Gumede set the cat among the pigeons.
The Cheetahs though were inexplicably gifted with possession that allowed them to build pressure and find the field position that allowed them to get the winning three-pointer.
The fightback from the Sharks, especially with a younger and more effervescent pack in the second half, nearly floored them.
The Sharks were first out of the blocks with a 5th minute try from Grant Williams. That shocked the hosts into action and they scored three tries through Khuthazani Mchunu, Chris Smit and Malcolm Jaer which helped build a strong lead.
While the home side were dominating the scrums and manhandling the Sharks at the breakdown and mauls the visitors got a try through JJ van der Mescht to ease their pressure at half-time.
And the changes made in the second half sparked the Sharks back into life.
Smart interplay between forwards and backs saw Thembelani Bholi cross the line in the 46th minute, but the Cheetahs hit back two minutes later through Rynier Bernardo.
That’s where the try party ended for the Cheetahs as the Sharks and their young, but bristling forward pack took charge of the game.
Tries, and very good ones from Werner Kok in the 53rd minute, Phendulani Buthelezi in the 61st minute and Gumede saw the Sharks claw back from 33-17 down to lead 38-36.
Inexplicably, they were happy to let the Cheetahs run at them in the last 10 minutes, something that forced defensive errors from the Sharks.
They made three that led to Frans Steyn penalties, two of which he missed. He landed the third and final one in the 79th minute.
From there, the Cheetahs applied the possession retention and the patience the young Sharks didn’t have to ensure they sealed the win.
Cheetahs 39 (28)
Tries: Ruan Pienaar, Khuthuzani Mchunu, Chris Smit, Malcolm Jaer, Rynier Bernado
Conversions: Frans Steyn (4)
Penalties: Frans Steyn (2)
Sharks: 38 (12)
Tries: Grant Williams, JJ van der Mescht, Thembelani Bholi, Werner Kok, Phendulani Buthelezi, Celimpilo Gumede.
Conversions: Jordan Chait (2), Manie Libbok (2)