The SWD Eagles survived a late surge from the Leopards but managed to prevail 26-21 (halftime 13-11) in their provincial tournament clash at Outeniqua Park in George on Friday evening, to go second on the log.
The Leopards strung together more than 25 phases after the hooter had sounded, despite being down to 14 men, in trying to score a try that could have potentially snatched victory from the jaws of defeat but poor hands let the visitors down.
Both sides struggled with their handling throughout the game with many turn-overs and missed opportunities coming from knock-ons but both sides settled for two tries apiece with the boot of fly-half Hansie Graaff proving to be the difference as the Eagles pivot slotted two conversions and four penalties.
The Leopards’ fullback, Rhyno Smith gave the visitors an early lead with two penalties but the first try came through the Eagles’ right win, Carlo Radebe. The Eagles had secured turnover ball straight from the kick-off and the ball was moved to the right where Radebe cut-in, straightened the line and dived forward to score with an outstretched arm. Graaff converted to give the home side a slender one-point lead.
Graaff extended the home side’s advantage to seven points with two penalties of his own but then tighthead prop Juandre Digue was shown a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on right wing Lucian Cupido. With the Eagles down to 14 men, Smith drove the ball into the corner and hooker Wilmar Arnoldi burst over the line from the lineout maul but Smith missed the conversion as the sides went into the break just two points apart.
The Eagles began the second stanza with fire in the belly, despite being a man down and secured 93% of the possession in the first 10 minutes after the break which resulted in Graaff adding another two penalty goals to his name but their eight-point advantage was cut down to just a single point as inside centre Adrian Vermeulen dived over the line for a converted try after good pressure from the forwards created space out wide.
But again, the Leopards went to sleep after the kick-off as the Eagles pressed and replacement hooker, Mark Pretorius, darted through the middle of the defence and moved the ball left to Riaan Arends who was brought down before the line. The ball was recycled and scrumhalf Johan Steyn broke through and dived under the poles for a seven-pointer.
The hero for the Leopards at the end of the first half, Arnoldi, then turned villain as he was referred to the TMO after the try was scored and was shown a yellow card for a dangerous tackle. But just nine minutes after his return, the visitors suffered another blow as replacement prop forward, Ruan Grobbelaar was also shown his marching orders for kicking a player in the back off the ball.
The Leopards pressed hard in the closing stages and were awarded a penalty shortly before the hooter, which Smith converted to leave the visitors five points off their hosts. But Graaff failed to kick the ball oout on the restart and the Leopards moved the ball up the field through 25-plus phases in search of an unlikely victory but again it was poor hands at the final stage that let them down.
SWD Eagles – Tries: Carlo Radebe, Johan Steyn; Conversions: Hansie Graaff (2); Penalties: Graaf (4).
Leopards – Tries: Wilmar Arnoldi, Adrian Vermeulen; Conversions: Rhyno Smith; Penalties: Smith (3).