Fullback SP Marais used his silky skills to run in four tries as the Eastern Province Kings beat the SWD Eagles 60-24 (halftime 22-10) in their Absa Currie Cup First Division match at Outeniqua Park in George on Friday.
The exciting fullback once again displayed some exhilarating attacking skills, extending his try-tally to 13 in seven games, as the Kings continued to suggest there are big things happening in Eastern Province rugby.
The Kings dominated the forward exchanges, especially in the scrums, but made life difficult for themselves in the first half by playing too much rugby in their own 22.
Eastern Province flyhalf Louis Strydom, acquired a couple of months back from Free State, and Eagles fullback Elric van Vuuren traded penalties in the first 10 minutes, before South-Western Districts provided some early excitement for their supporters by grabbing the first try of the match.
The Kings foolishly tried to run the ball from their own 22 after the Eagles had overthrown a lineout, flyhalf Cecil Dumond intercepted a pass, leading to a five-metre scrum. The home side were once again under pressure at the set-piece, but a strong charge by lock Lubabalo “Giant” Mtyanda gave SWD front-foot ball again and Van Vuuren slipped between two defenders to score the try, which he then converted (3-10).
The Kings only claimed the first of their nine tries in the 25th minute as a wonderful exchange in midfield between centres Jaco Bekker and Mathew Tayler-Smith saw the latter break free of the defence and set up Marais for his first try, which flyhalf Louis Strydom converted (10-10).
From that point on, the Kings broke free of the yoke imposed on them by a fired-up Eagles side.
It was Marais who set up the second try, breaking through some poor defence to set up Tayler-Smith, who also enjoyed another fine day in the red and black hoops. Strydom converted the try (17-10).
Marais was back on the scoresheet after the halftime hooter as he yelled for the ball out wide and Strydom gave him a pinpoint cross-kick to catch and flop over the tryline (22-10).
While theEasternProvincebacks claimed the glory by scoring seven of their tries, the Kings are busy developing a top-class pack of forwards and they set up the opening try of the second half with a powerful rolling maul, which gave wing Norman Nelson the space to dive over in the corner. Strydom’s fine conversion stretched the lead to 29-10 after 43 minutes.
Two minutes later, the visitors won a turnover in between their own 10 and 22-metre lines and flank and captain Luke Watson was quick to spark a counter-attack, which Marais completed by ghosting through the defence and speeding away for his hat-trick try, which Strydom converted well (36-10).
The Kings, unbeaten in six First Division matches, seemed set for another comfortable victory against a team that is third on the log with a 50% record, but the Eagles then totally overturned expected procedure by scoring two tries of their own.
Flyhalf Cecil Dumond, who is 24 years old and has played barely 30 first-class matches, showed the touch of an old pro as his deft chip created total confusion in the Kings defence and Van Vuuren was able to beat team-mate Howard Noble to the touchdown. The fullback converted his own try to close the gap to 36-17.
It is said that props only reach their peak in their 30s and the 37-year-old Connie Botha showed there is still plenty of life left in his experienced legs when he stormed over for a try in the 61st minute, Van Vuuren converting to bring the Eagles back into the game at 36-24.
But the Eastern Province replacements were able to do the job they were brought on to do – revitalising the Kings – with the First Division pace-setters finishing very strongly with four tries in the last quarter.
Replacement lock Wayne van Heerden took advantage of there being too many tight forwards in the Eagles backline as he galloped away to set up Nelson for his second try, although several of the SWD players were glaring at referee Marius Jonker for ignoring their calls for a forward pass.
That try broke the Eagles’ spirit and the Kings breezed through to victory with further tries to replacement hooker Frank Herne, Marais and Watson.
Herne’s try was particularly marvellous as the Kings broke from their own line.Hernecarried the ball well early on in the move, before a weaving run by Nelson and another strong charge by Van Heerden took Eastern Province into the SWD 22, Herne rounding off in the corner.
Marais added two conversions in the closing stages to cap off a very happy day for the Paarl Boys’ High product.
SWD Eagles – Tries: Elric van Vuuren (2), Connie Botha. Conversions: Van Vuuren (3). Penalty: Van Vuuren.
Eastern Province Kings – Tries: SP Marais (4), Mathew Tayler-Smith, Norman Nelson (2), Frank Herne, Luke Watson. Conversions: Louis Strydom (4), Marais (2). Penalty: Strydom.