Eastern Province Kings remained in contention for the quarterfinals as they narrowly beat SWD Eagles 24-21 (halftime 10-7) in their SuperSport Rugby Challenge fixture at Sisa Dukashe Stadium, East London, on Sunday.
This was essentially a basement battle between the two bottom teams in the South Section. Coming into the game, SWD had not won in their four matches while the Kings had two victories but needed another to keep themselves in the hunt for a quarterfinal berth. Both sides lost to DHL Western Province in their previous matches but the Kings put up a better fight than their provincial neighbours in those clashes over the past fortnight.
And it was Eastern Province Kings who were out of the blocks quickly with a fifth-minute try from a driving maul by hooker Tango Balekile after a good take in the lineout by lock Giant Mtyanda.
SWD were on the board 15 minutes later as flyhalf Johnny Welthagen stepped his way over the try-line after a period of sustained pressure. Leighton Eksteen slotted the conversion to give the Eagles a narrow advantage.
But, in the 27’th minute, flank Davon Raubenheimer was yellow carded and the Eagles were down to 14 men and up against it. Then discipline let them down again minutes later and before Raubenheimer returned to the field, the Eagles lost centre Marlou van Niekerk, this time for an illegal tackle.
The Kings eventually made the most of their numerical advantage when fullback Keanu Vers scored his team’s second try in the corner on the stroke of halftime.
Vers was in for his second of the afternoon soon after the restart when he accepted a back-of-the-hand flip pass from Wandile Mjekevu to touch down in the corner. Flyhalf Pieter-Steyn de Wet kicked the difficult conversion to give the Kings a 17-7 lead.
The Kings were seemingly starting to take control and after a strong build-up, prop Chris Heiberg stormed over for the bonus-point try and De Wet added the two points from the kicking tee.
However, the Kings then had a turn at having a player in the sin-bin when replacement Rouche Nel was shown yellow. Almost immediately, No 8 Thor Halvorsen crashed over for SWD’s second score and Eksteen converted to make it 24-14 with 18 minutes to play.
With the wind in their sails, SWD had swung the momentum and replacement Marlo Weich scored a wonderful try after a superb run down the touchline. Eksteen converted and the Eagles were within three points of the Kings. But Eastern Province managed to hang on for a nail-biting victory.
EP Kings – Tries: Tango Balekile, Keanu Vers (2), Chris Heiberg; Conversions: Pieter-Steyn de Wet (2)
SWD Eagles – Tries: Johnny Welthagen, Thor Halvorsen, Marlo Weich; Conversions: Leighton Eksteen (3)