Victorious Sharks have to settle for third
Coastal Sharks player S'bura Sithole runs with the ball during their Super 15 rugby union match against the Auckland Blues at Albany Stadium in Auckland on May 23, 2014 - by Michael Bradley
The Durban outfit ran on to the pitch at a cold Newlands stadium in Cape Town needing a 35-point bonus-point victory to snatch second place from Canterbury Crusaders.
But the improbable target soon became impossible and two tries in the final four minutes gave Sharks a flattering scoreline.
Finishing third on the combined standings means Sharks miss out on a bye next weekend and a home semi-final.
Instead, they must host the New Zealand Otago Highlanders next Saturday and, if successful, play record seven-time champions Crusaders away a week later in the semi-finals.
The Australian ACT Brumbies host the New Zealand Waikato Chiefs in the other play-off with the winners set to meet the table-topping New South Wales Waratahs for a final place.
Waratahs completed the 16-match league phase with 58 points followed by Crusaders (51), Sharks (50), Brumbies (45), title-holders Chiefs (44) and Highlanders (42).
Apart from the Crusaders and two-time champions Chiefs, the Brumbies have won the southern hemisphere provincial title.
"We could have done with another few minutes," quipped Sharks skipper and hooker Bismarck du Plessis, referring to the late try surge.
"I hope all South Africans will cheer us on against the Highlanders and we are not looking any further than the play-off."
Stormers skipper and flank Schalk Burger hailed Sharks as a team capable of becoming the second South African side to lift the trophy after Northern Bulls.
"The way they won here had all the hallmarks of a champion side. They had three try-scoring opportunities and scored three tries.
"We kept them deep in their half for almost the entire second half, but could not put any points on the scoreboard."
Stormers were the form team going into the South African derby with four wins in five matches while Sharks lost three of their previous five games.
The Cape Town team also had the psychological boost of a shock 21-19 triumph in Durban before the June Test rugby break.
After fly-half Francois Steyn kicked a fourth-minute penalty, Sharks suffered several blows as flank Willem Alberts was yellow-carded and they conceded a try one minute later.
Livewire Stormers flank Nizaam Carr was credited with a pushover try which angered Du Plessis, who believed referee Jaco Peyper should have used the television match official.
Big-screen replays of the score did not show Carr scoring as a group of Stormers surged over the try-line.
Fly-half Kurt Coleman converted only for Steyn to kick three more penalties and give the visitors a five-point advantage.
A Coleman penalty narrowed the gap before Sharks centre Paul Jordaan dotted down for an opportunist try that Steyn converted for a 19-10 half-time advantage.
Steyn potted his fifth penalty five minutes into the second half before the Stormers camped in Sharks' territory without managing to score.
Right-wing S'bura Sithole put the outcome beyond doubt with a breakaway try on 76 minutes that Steyn converted.
And a minute into stoppage time, replacement back Stefan Ungerer dived over in the corner for an unconverted try to complete the scoring.