The Eastern Province Kings will host the Leopards and the Ford Pumas will entertain the Griffons in the Absa Currie Cup First Division semi-finals this coming Friday after a dramatic final weekend of round-robin action in which the make-up of the final four was not certain until the final match.
The Kings finished the regular season unbeaten with 62 log points – eight ahead of the second-placed Pumas – after winning 23-20 against the Leopards in Potchefstroom, the home side's losing bonus point allowing them to squeeze into fourth on the final log to set up another date with the Kings next week – but in Port Elizabeth this time.
The Pumas and Griffons will also meet each for the second weekend in succession after the men from Welkom sealed their semi-final spot with a 39-29 win at Nelspruit's Mbombela Stadium – to which they must now return next Friday to battle it out for a place in the final.
The SWD Eagles proved to be the unluckiest team in the competition, coming within one log point of the play-offs after a 45-11 victory over the Valke in George. The Eagles did everything that was required of them but, like many observers, perhaps could not have foreseen that the Griffons would pick up a full house away from home against the high-flying Pumas.
And in the weekend's other match, outgoing champions the Regent Boland Kavaliers made sure of sixth place on the table thanks to a morale-boosting 43-24 win over Border in Wellington, a result that left the Bulldogs without a single victory to show for their efforts this season and ensured that veteran skipper Bolla Conradie retired from provincial rugby in style on the occasion of his 50th cap.
SWD Eagles (12) 45 Valke (6) 11
The SWD Eagles, chasing a semi-final spot, piled on the pressure in the second half to beat the Valke at Outeniqua Park on Friday.
The bonus-point win took the Eagles to 43 log points but it was not enough as both the Griffons and Leopards inched ahead of them on the final standings and into the semi-finals.
The weighty Valke pack caused the Eagles some problems in the first half and flyhalf Karlo Aspeling kicked two penalties in the first quarter to give the Gautengers a 6-0 lead.
In the 28th minute, the home side eventually got the ball wide from a series of rucks and quick hands by flyhalf Burton Francis sent fullback Elric van Vuuren over for the try.
With George delivering her famous cold-and-wet weather, handling and expansive play were tough and the Eagles began using the rolling maul to good effect. Just before halftime, flank Dumisane Meslane, who played with great energy throughout, burst from a maul and darted down the blindside for the second try, which Van Vuuren converted.
Van Vuuren has wonderful hands as well as an accurate boot and his nifty back-flip sent Meslane racing clear two minutes after the break, the loose forward then showing good vision to draw three defenders and pass back inside for the fullback to score.
Van Vuuren's second conversion increased the lead to 19-6 and that became 26-6 in the 49th minute with the bonus-point try by wing Alshaun Bock.
Rugby can be a tough mistress and she turned ugly on Valke flyhalf Karlo Aspeling, who had enjoyed a good first half. First he missed a penalty kick to touch and then, when he received the ball back from the Eagles, he tried a chip kick which was gathered by Bock.
The well-travelled 30-year-old wing swerved away from Aspeling and then burst down the right touchline to score, Van Vuuren converting.
The Valke were now chasing the game and captain and lock Johan de Bruin evaded the blindside defence to score from a ruck in the 54th minute, following on the good work of Eksteen and centre Hendrik Meyer in creating front-foot ball.
But the Eagles broke free again in the final quarter and soared to a strong finish with three more tries.
Eagles – Tries: Wilhelm Koch, Shaun Raubenheimer, Ghafoer Luckan, Elric van Vuuren (2), Dumisane Meslane, Alshaun Bock. Van Vuuren (5).
Valke – Try: Johan de Bruin. Penalties: Karlo Aspeling (2).
Ford Pumas (22) 29 Griffons (20) 39
The Griffons assured themselves of a semi-final place with an impressive win at the Mbombela Stadium on Friday.
The Pumas began the match assured of a top-two finish on the log but the Griffons began the final round-robin match needing a win to be sure of their place in the final four.
This they achieved by running in five tries to four to upset the more fancied Pumas, who might have had one eye on the knockout stages.
The match was a personal triumph for Griffons flyhalf Hansie Graaff who scored in every way possible for a personal tally of 19 points.
The Pumas had held the edge at the break after tries from outside centre Ashwin Scott, scrumhalf Faf de Klerk and flank Renaldo Bothma.
The Griffons replied with tries of their own through veteran left wing Shane Hancke and scrumhalf Inus Kritzinger but they had Graaff’s boot to thank for keeping them in the game.
However, the Griffons took the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half and they scored straight from the kick-off when right wing Cameron Jacobs scooted over for a converted try.
Graaff dotted down himself 10 minutes later as the Griffons roared into a 34-22 lead.
The Pumas did manage to cut the deficit when replacement scrumhalf Shaun Venter slid over for a converted try in the 64th minute.
But the Griffons were not to be denied and they made sure of the victory in the 75th minute when replacement lock Gavin Annandale rumbled over.
Pumas – Tries: Shaun Venter, Renaldo Bothma, Francois de Klerk, Ashwin Scott. Conversions: Naas Olivier (3). Penalty: Olivier.
Griffons – Tries: Shane Hancke, Inus Kritzinger, Hansie Graaff, Gavin Annandale, Cameron Jacobs. Conversions: Graaff (4). Penalty: Graaff. Drop goal: Graaff.
Leopards (13) 20 EP Kings (13) 23
Storming flanker Wimpie van der Walt scored the crucial try as the EP Kings edged the Leopards at Profert Olën Park on Friday.
But the Leopards gained a crucial bonus point, which in the final analysis was all they required to proceed to the semi-finals.
Van der Walt, who went on several barnstorming runs through the game, scored the crucial try in the 47th minute to give the Kings a 23-13 cushion in a hard-fought game.
The Leopards piled on the pressure in the final quarter and it told when referee Tiaan Jonker ran around under the posts and awarded them a penalty try, with flyhalf André Pretorius kicking the conversion to close the gap to 20-23.
And to make matters worse for the Kings, replacement lock Darron Nell was yellow-carded for the offence that led to the penalty try.
But the log-topping Eastern Province side showed tremendous courage and determination in defence as they held off the Leopards to secure their 12th win and an unbeaten run into the last four.
The Leopards, playing for a semi-final place in front of their home crowd, came out firing and gave the Kings a torrid opening quarter, leading 10-0 after 25 minutes.
Pretorius kicked a penalty and converted Edgar Marutlulle's try as the hooker showed good pace and strength to barge over.
Up until then, the competition favourites had been all barks but they showed their bite through flyhalf Wesley Dunlop, who scored 13 points in six minutes with two penalties and a try which he converted.
The Leopards had the last say in the first half with a Pretorius penalty, before Dunlop started the dramatic second half with a penalty to stretch the visitors lead to 16-13 before Van der Walt's moment of glory.
Leopards – Tries: Edgar Marutlulle, penalty try. Conversions: André Pretorius (2). Penalties: Pretorius (2).
Kings – Tries: Wimpie van der Walt, Wesley Dunlop. Conversions: Dunlop (2). Penalties: Dunlop (3).
Regent Boland Kavaliers (26) 43 Border Bulldogs (7) 24
Brendon April scored a brace as the Regent Boland Kavaliers ended their title reign on a positive note by beating the Border Bulldogs at the Boland Stadium on Friday.
The match was a dead rubber with both sides already eliminated from the competition, but there was still plenty of pride at stake for the hosts after a wretched year, in which they had won just two matches.
Victory ensured that they ended sixth, while the Bulldogs finished their campaign winless after 14 consecutive defeats.
Boland set the tone early on in the game by opening the scoring inside the first minute when outside centre Jonathan Francke intercepted a pass well inside his own half.
The lead was stretched even further in the eighth minute when Elgar Watts picked up after a handling error by Border close to the halfway mark, the flyhalf running 40 metres and offloading to April for the first of his first tries.
The Kavaliers then went on to score a third try courtesy of flanker Alwyn Bester after several missed tackles by Border.
The visitors eventually scored through Blake Kyd but April pounced on more poor handling by the Bulldogs before the break to land his second try – the player kicking up field from the halfway line and outgunning two chasers.
After the break, the home side continued to attack and Watts powered over for a fifth try, with the remaining scores coming from Bjorgen Julies and Jacquin Jansen.
The match also marked the final appearance for home captain Bolla Conradie, who was playing in his 50th game.
He was replaced by Neil Papier, himself playing a final time for the Kavaliers after 11 seasons and 154 games.
Boland – Tries: Jonathan Francke, Franzel September, Elgar Watts (2), Brendon April (2), Bjorgen Julies. Conversions: Watts (4).
Border – Tries: Johannes Seerane, Dean Muir, Chrislyn van Schalkwyk, Blake Kyd. Conversions: Jannie Myburgh, Reinhardt Gerber.