Calling the shots: Joe Pietersen of the Cheetahs enjoyed his return to Super Rugby.

Calling the shots: Joe Pietersen of the Cheetahs enjoyed his return to Super Rugby. Photo: Getty Images

The Cheetahs shocked the careless Sharks 35-29 on Saturday to win the first South African derby of the Super Rugby season and collect a bonus point at Kings Park.

The Sharks came close to snatching victory in Durban as time ticked toward the 80-minute mark with Marcel Coetzee believing he had scored a try, but big-screen replays showed he lost the ball forward.

The home team - considered the strongest South African contenders for the title this year - had another chance only to be dispossessed within sight of the tryline.

Boom Prinsloo of the Cheetahs charges at the Sharks.

Boom Prinsloo of the Cheetahs charges at the Sharks. Photo: Getty Images

The Cheetahs then brought play into the Sharks' half and that is where a game played in muggy conditions ended as a loose ball was snapped up and booted into touch by huge prop Coenie Oosthuizen.

Flanker Jean Cook, centre Francois Venter and replacement forwards Boom Prinsloo and Carl Wegner scored a try each for the Bloemfontein-based team, who led 20-16 at half-time.

New fly-half Joe Pietersen kicked three penalties and two conversions and his replacement, Willie du Plessis, one conversion.

Sharks fly-half Patrick Lambie scored a try and slotted two conversions and five penalties for a 24-point total and left-wing Lwazi Mvovo was the other try scorer.

Considered likely whipping boys after losing skipper Adriaan Strauss and fellow forwards Trevor Nyakane and Lappies Labuschagne to the Bulls, the Cheetahs were worthy winners.

Pietersen, operating as playmaker for the first time since 2009 when a Stormer, displayed calm authority and missed only one shot at goal in a 13-point contribution.

Loosehead prop Danie Mienie was not overawed at scrumming against Springbok Jannie du Plessis, forcing the veteran to concede several penalties.

And loose forward Prinsloo proved an inspired substitution, coming off the bench and almost immediately scoring the push-over try that gave Cheetahs breathing space. 

Victory was achieved, despite the loss only 10 minutes into the first half of lock Lood de Jager with a suspected broken elbow - a major blow to a side lacking strength in depth.

Revelling in the role of underdogs, the Cheetahs appeared hungrier than the Sharks, for whom Lambie was an emergency skipper.

He stood in for hooker Bismarck du Plessis, a late withdrawal due to injury whose combative style was sorely missed.  

While good at the line-outs, the Sharks did not exert their expected superiority in the scrums, made too many handling errors and appeared lethargic in the debut match of coach Gary Gold.

The new handler demanded and got a more expansive game than the kick-obsessed tactics of Jake White last year, but they were outscored by four tries to two.

Gold will look forward to the imminent return of backs JP Pietersen and Francois Steyn and forward Ryan Kankowski from contracts with Japanese clubs.

And he must hope the suspected calf tear that forced Springbok prop Tendai 'The Beast' Mtawarira off during the first half is not serious.

CHEETAHS 35: (Jean Cook, Francois Venter, Boom Prinsloo, Carl Wegner tries; Joe Pietersen (2), Willie du Plessis cons; Pietersen 3 pens) def SHARKS 29 (Patrick Lambie, Lwazi Mvovo tries; Lambie 2 cons, 5 pens)