The Sharks not only regained their first place on the standings, but they also remained the only team to have won all their matches after three weeks, beating the Highlanders 23-16 in their Super 14 encounter at the ABSA Stadium, in Durban, on Saturday.
Springbok fullback Percy Montgomery scored all the Sharks points - two brilliant tries, two conversions and three penalties.
If you had watched the beginning you would never have guessed what the ending would be like.
The Sharks started the game brimming with confidence and skill. They dominated possession, they ran good lines, they were happy to run behind their own goal-line - in short they gave the impression of a masterly side on the way to a polished victory.
Instead they ended fighting from the trenches on their own goal-line to defend a shrinking lead.
Of course, they deserved to win. They were e better side than the gutsy Highlanders with their inexperienced backs. But they spilled chances when it mattered and in the end needed their great defence to save the day.
It was a changed Sharks side with two Springbok captains, current John Smit and former Bob Skinstad, sitting on the bench and arriving on the field only late in the match. Butch James and Albert van den Berg kept them company along with Kees Lensing and Jacques Botes.
But then the Highlanders parked Josh Blackie, their captain, on the bench as well.
Right from the start the Sharks clamped the Highlanders deep in their own half. From a great maul, Ruan Pienaar and AJ Venter were close till they scored from a scrum on their right. Frans Steyn went left and forced his way into a tackle. Back the ball came right and Percy Montgomery came on a speeding arc and eventually forced his way over in the corner, whence he converted. After six minutes the Sharks led 6-0.
Montgomery was destined to score all the Sharks' points, missing just one kick when the ball bounced away off an upright.
Back the Sharks came and made a penalty into a five-metre line-out. They pounded at the line but Bismarck du Plessis lost the ball.
Ryan Kankowski had a brilliant break and run which Montgomery was up to continue but JP Pietersen was tackled out at the corner post.
The scrums were messy, and when the Highlanders scrum went up on their own ball, the referee penalised them and Montgomery made it 10-0.
When Charlie Hore missed a long-range penalty, Monty ran the ball out going slightly right. Steyn carried it on and the Sharks swept down on their left on the attack. If Adrian Jacobs had go a pass away they would almost certainly of scored. Instead he lost the ball, and the Highlanders came out on the counter.
When, in turn, the Highlanders lost the ball, Steyn picked up and the Sharks broke out, prevented from scoring by a forward pass.
The Highlanders were getting more and more into the game but Waylon Murray, playing wing this week, and Kankowski broke out for the Sharks, again creating the possibility of a try.
Hore made it 10-6 and Steyn from way away form the posts hit the upright high up.
The half-time score was 10-6 to the Sharks.
Montgomery and Hore exchanged penalties and then Montgomery bounced the ball away off an upright. But after 61 minutes Montgomery goaled again, 16-9.
Play now became desultory. The promise of the start had fizzled out as the rain drifted down.
The Highlanders were desperately close to scoring when Jason Kawau stretched out to ground the ball in Pietersen's tackle but the TMO ruled that he had hit the corner post low down before grounding the ball. It was a difficult decision.
When the Highlanders were penalised for being off-side, Pienaar tapped and went. Steyn raced down the middle of the field but that, too, came to nothing.
Then the Highlanders kicked down over the Sharks 10-metre line where Montgomery caught the ball. He gave to Pienaar who raced with long strides down the middle of the field. Toby Morland tackled Pienaar but he offloaded to Montgomery who burst away and scored at the posts. He converted. 23-9 with five minutes to play.
A minute later it was 23-16.
The Highlanders kicked off and Kankowski volleyballed the ball back to the Highlanders, who pounced. Hore made the running and this time Kawau got his try. Hore converted. 23-16 with four minutes to go.
Two penalties in quick succession gave the highlanders a five-metre line-out. They mauled. The Sharks drove them back. The Highlanders mauled and bashed again,. The siren went and they were a metre from the line when they conceded a penalty which Montgomery hoofed into touch.
Afterwards captain Craig Newby expressed his pride in his side. "We didn't throw in the towel." Pienaar was pleased that his side were now the only unbeaten side in the Super 14 but cautioned that "there are a lot of games to go".
Man of the Match: Well as Ruan Pienaar and Brad Barritt played there was one candidate who stood head and shoulders above the rest - Percy Montgomery, who tackled bravely, caught the high ball, attacked whenever he has d a chance and scored all his side's 23 points.
For the Sharks:
Tries: Montgomery 2
Cons: Montgomery 2
Pens: Montgomery 3
For the Highlanders:
Pens: Hore 3
Sharks: 15 Percy Montgomery, 14 Waylon Murray, 13 Adrian Jacobs, 12 Bradley Barritt, 11 JP Pietersen, 10 Francois Steyn, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Ryan Kankowski, 7 AJ Venter (c), 6 Warren Britz, 5 Johann Muller, 4 Steven Sykes, 3 BJ Botha, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Deon Carstens.
Replacements: 16 John Smit, 17 Kees Lensing, 18 Albert van den Berg, 19 Jacques Botes, 20 Bob Skinstad, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Butch James
Highlanders: 15 Craig Clare, 14 Lucky Mulipola, 13 Matthew Saunders, 12 Callum Bruce, 11 Greg Zampach, 10 Charlie Hore, 9 Jimmy Cowan, 8 Craig Newby, 7 Josh Blackie (c), 6 Hoani MacDonald, 5 James Ryan, 4 Kane Thompson, 3 Clarke Dermody, 2 Jason Macdonald, 1 Chris King
Replacements: 16 David Hall, 17 Keith Cameron, 18 Ezra Taylor, 19 Alando Soakai, 20 Toby Morland, 21 Jason Kawau, 22 Willie Rickards
Referee: James Leckie (Australia)
Touch judges: Geoff Acton (Australia), JC Fortuin (South Africa)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)