A last-minute penalty from JC Roos gave the Steval Pumas a 28-27 (halftime 13-18) victory over the SWD Eagles in an Absa Currie Cup First Division match at a cloudy and cold Outeniqua Park in George on Friday to maintain their unbeaten status.
The Pumas outscored their hosts with three tries to two as Roos contributed 13 points with three penatlies and two conversions. His opposite number, Justin van Staden, won the battle of boot with a haul of 17 points with four penalties, a conversion and a drop-goal.
Both sides offered a fair crowd of around 2 000 people an open and entertaining match, as the lead changed hands no less than eight times over the full 80 minutes. The George faithful were hoping that their team could hold on for the final three minutes with only 14 men, after Mzwanele Zito had been sent to the sin-bin, with the score at 27-20.
But Rosco Speckman scored his second try of the night to narrow the gap to just two points, with Roos missing a vital conversion that would have levelled matters. Then Eagles' hopes of becoming the first team to defeat the men from Nelspruit were dashed when Roos slotted an 80th minute penalty to seal the victory.
Roos also opened the scoring for the visitors with a first minute three-pointer. Straight after that the hosts suffered an injury to their hard-working flanker Buran Parks, who had to be replaced by Christo du Plessis just two minutes into the match.
But that seemed to launch the Eagles from their nest as they launched an attack which brought them their first try after just four minutes with Gerhard Smith going over in the corner. Van Staden missed the conversion from a very tight angle.
Van Staden increased the home side's lead to five points after 14 minutes with his first penalty attempt. But two minutes later, the visitors drew level when Speckman scored his first try. The winger rounded off a lovely move for the Pumas and Roos converted the try to regain the lead.
Both sides traded penalties over the following 10 minute period before the Eagles scored their second, and last, try through their towering lock, Schalk Oelofse, which Van Staden converted to make the score 18-13 in favour of the hosts. More bad luck was to strike the Eagles when Oelofse limped off the field shortly after scoring his try, and was replaced by Grant le Roux.
Shortly after the restart, Roos had an opportunity to narrow the gap to two points but sent his penalty attempt wide of the mark. But the Pumas' fullback, Coenie van Wyk, managed to dart across the white-wash 10 minutes later to level the scores at 18-all. Roos converted to regain the lead for the visitors.
Their lead was to be short-lived as Van Staden slotted his third penalty just four minutes later. Fortune seemed to be favouring the home side when the Pumas' Corne Fourie was shown the yellow card from referee, Quinton Immelman. The only impression that the hosts could make on the scoreboard though during this period was a Van Staden penalty after 64 minutes, to extend their lead to four points.
Van staden had a chance to move the lead to seven points four minutes later but mis-timed a penalty attempt, which went wide. But the Eagles' flyhalf redeemed himself with just seven minutes left to play by slotting a wonderful drop-goal to give the hosts a seven point lead.
The crowd cheered every defensive effort, especially after Zito received his marching orders. But a minute after Zito left the field, Speckman went over. When Roos missed the attempt to level the scores, the crowd sensed that something special could happen, and that perhaps this was their game.
But, with just seconds left on the stadium clock, Immelman awarded a penalty to the visitors. Roos calmly slotted his attempt, after the siren had sounded, leaving the George-faithful feeling despondent.
This gives the Pumas 12 wins from 12 and increases their lead at the top of the ABSA Currie Cup First Division to 14 points over the second-placed EP Kings, with just two rounds remaining. The Eagles picked up one point for finishing within seven and are just one point adrift of the third-placed Leopards, who are on 37 points.
Eagles - Tries: Gerhard Smith, Schalk Oelofse ; Conversion: Justin van Staden ; Penalties: Van Staden (4); Drop-goal: Van Staden.
Pumas - Tries: Rosco Speckman (2), Coenie van Wyk ; Conversions: JC Roos (2); Penalties: Roos (3).