The Cheetahs put a dent in the Sharks' Super Rugby title chances as they held off a late resurgence from the visitors to triumph 27-20 on Saturday.
Although the Cheetahs led by 14 points going into the 75th minute, a try by substitute Bismarck du Plessis sparked a Sharks side that had been lackluster in the second half, and set up an exciting finale.
The visitors were then awarded two penalties just meters from the Cheetahs tryline in the final moments but were unable to make them count, ensuring they came away with nothing more than a losing bonus point.
That left the Sharks in third position going into the final round of the regular season, meaning they could have to win three knockout games in the playoffs to lift the trophy. The top two teams after the round robin advance straight to the semifinals, while the third-place side must play a quarterfinal against the team that finishes sixth.
With the Bulls losing to the Stormers 16-0 hours earlier, the Sharks, four times runner-up in Super Rugby, became South Africa's only team certain to make the top-six playoffs, the republic's lowest representation since 2009.
In contrast to the Sharks, the Cheetahs had satisfaction at the other end of the standings as they lifted themselves off the foot of the table thanks to tries from Torsten van Jaarsveld, Phillip van der Walt, and new Springboks lock Lood de Jager.
Although the game was generally a scrappy one, it was boosted by an even first half and a tense finish.
The Cheetahs raced to 10-0 in the opening 10 minutes thanks to Johan Goosen's penalty and a remarkable try that saw Van Jaarsveld score from a rolling maul that made more than 30 meters.
But two Tim Swiel penalties and a brilliant solo try from scrumhalf Cobus Reinach saw the Sharks romp into the lead, before Van der Walt burst over to put the Cheetahs 17-13 ahead at the break.
With De Jager's try and Goosen's second penalty extending that lead, Sharks coach Jake White sent on three Springboks who were on the bench due to their heavy international workload last month.
It took some time for the changes to take effect, but the game was alive when Du Plessis scored off the back of a rolling maul to narrow the gap to seven points.
However, it proved to be too little too late as the Cheetahs held off their more illustrious opponents to pick up just their fourth win of the season.
Cheetahs 27 (Torsten van Jaarsveld, Phillip van der Walt, Lood de Jager tries; Johan Goosen 3 conversions, 2 penalties)
Sharks 20 (Cobus Reinach, Bismarck du Plessis tries; Tim Swiel 2 conversions, 2 penalties). HT: 17-13.