Wing Louis Ludik and outside centre JP Pietersen, the Sharks’ two most dangerous outside backs, scored the tries and the experienced Michalak also added both conversions and two penalties to end with 16 points.
The Sharks had to contend with travel fatigue, having beaten the Reds in Brisbane last weekend, as well as the passionate Newlands crowd and a table-topping Stormers team that was unbeaten at home this season and had the best defensive record in the competition.
But the Sharks’ tight five dominated and their marauding loose trio carried the ball strongly and disrupted the Stormers’ possession, providing plenty of front-foot ball for their backs. Michalak, capped 56 times for France, played with immense composure and varied his game well, and Pietersen and Ludik were massive threats with ball in hand.
“It’s going to take a while to get over this, but we can only blame ourselves, we had 80 minutes to prove we were good enough and we came up short. We get such good support but we don’t have a cup to show for it – that’s what makes it tough,” Stormers captain Jean de Villiers said after his team’s fifth defeat in six SuperRugby playoffs.
“But credit to the Sharks for travelling so much and then putting on a fantastic performance tonight. If there’s a team you can’t bet against us in these competition it’s them and we’re definitely behind them all the way,” De Villiers added.
“The boys put their bodies on the line and it was tough coming to Newlands having spent last week in Australia, but the boys showed resilience. We had a lot of motivation to do something that’s never been done before. The front row and the tight five really put their hands up,” Sharks captain Keegan Daniel said.
The Stormers were first on the scoreboard as Sharks hooker Bismarck du Plessis was laid low by a rampaging Eben Etzebeth, the lock’s powerful charge setting up a penalty which flyhalf Peter Grant kicked (0-3).
But the Sharks showed they were more than up for the physical challenge, despite their jetlag, and the rest of the half belonged to them. With Michalak pulling the strings, they led 13-6 at the break.
The Stormers scrum was all at sea against the all-Springbok Sharks front row and Michalak was presented with a 13th-minute penalty to level the scores.
The home side were able to see off the strong forward drives of the Sharks, but the front-foot ball allowed Michalak to slot a drop goal to see the Sharks in front midway through the first half.
The Stormers trailled from then onwards and, although their defence at close quarters was sound, they were pinned in their own territory by the strong Sharks kicking game.
Michalak stayed calm under pressure to turn a defensive position after a Stormers kick into attack, fullback Riaan Viljoen hoisting a pinpoint up-and-under. Ludik was there like a flash, winning the ball and then stepping inside to race away and score the opening try.
Michalak converted and, even though Grant kicked a penalty on the half-time hooter to close the gap to seven points, there was no doubt which side held the upper hand.
The 29-year-old Frenchman could not succeed with a drop goal attempt that was half charged down five minutes after the break, but it did give the Sharks good field position and, when the Stormers could not legally stop a rolling maul off a lineout, it gave Michalak another penalty (16-6).
Viljoen could not convert a long-range penalty six minutes later, and the Sharks would be trapped offsides by a succession of attacking phases, allowing Grant to kick a penalty and close the gap to 9-16.
On the hour mark, Michalak shaped as if he would be attempting another drop goal, but then darted on to attack, passing the ball to Pietersen. His shimmy outside and step inside was enough to ensure the Stormers’ defence would be parted and he then sped away for the try.
Michalak’s conversion made the score 23-9, but there was always likely to be some tailing off from the Sharks given all their travelling, and the Stormers dominated the final quarter.
Grant pushed a 62nd-minute penalty wide to add to the other mistakes he made in the game, but the Stormers then kept the ball for 13 phases, stretching the Sharks left and right, before lightning-fast wing Gio Aplon was able to dash through what was left of the defence to score the home side’s only try.
Grant added the extra two points and then kicked a penalty from in front of the posts to leave the Stormers just four points behind with eight minutes remaining.
But Michalak then stepped up and, given a wonderful platform by the hard work of his forwards, kicked a 76th-minute drop goal from 30 metres out.
The Stormers burst back on to attack but, even though the Sharks looked out on their feet, there was no gap to break through.
Flank Daniel, an ever-present influence at the rucks, and Pietersen then combined to steal a vital turnover and send the Sharks back to Australasia for the final.
There they will meet the Waikato Chiefs in Hamilton.
Stormers – Try: Gio Aplon. Conversion: Peter Grant. Penalties: Grant (4).
Sharks – Tries: Louis Ludik, JP Pietersen. Conversions: Fred Michalak (2). Penalties: Michalak (2). Drop goals – Michalak (2).