The eight qualifiers for the Cell C Community Cup Easter Championships are finally confirmed a pulsating final weekend of pool action which saw Evergreens book their ticket with a injury-time try and wild cards Raiders' hearts broken with a missed conversion after the final hooter.
GAP Despatch will go to George as the second-placed Pool A side after a hard-fought away win over another wild card, SK Walmers, while Pretoria Police and Durbanville-Bellville flexed their muscles ahead of the play-offs with huge wins in Pool B.
But all the drama took place in Pools C and D, with Evergreens coming from behind to beat Roses United 28-13 at the Pacaltsdorp Sports Grounds and Raiders clawing their way back to draw 30-all with Rustenburg Impala in Johannesburg, only to fall agonisingly short of qualification.
Needing to win with a bonus point, an error-strewn Evergreens were outplayed for large sections of the match by the Boland wild cards and held on to a slender 14-13 lead going into the final 10 minutes.
But a try in the 74th minute of normal time to lock Marvin November gave the 3,000-strong crowd hope before eightman Gerschwin Muller's score in the 85th minute of normal time brought the house down and ensured that a local team would contest the Easter Championships.
And in Johannesburg, fullback Anvor Schooney missed a straightforward conversion after the final hooter that would not only have given Raiders a 32-30 victory over Rustenburg Impala but would also have booked his team a quarter-final against Evergreens in George.
The beneficiaries of these final heart-stopping moments of the tournament's pool stages were the team from Roodepoort, who had a bye and whose players watched the drama unfold from the stands. The West Rand club finished level with Raiders on 14 log points but qualify on head-to-head, having beaten Raiders 27-24 earlier this month.
Impala flyhalf Naas Olivier kicked an early penalty before right winger Earl Lewis scored the opener to give the visitors a 10-0 lead inside 10 minutes. But any thoughts of this being a one-side affair were soon forgotten as Shaun Davids' scintillating break led to a try for eightman Gustav de Vos, with Arno Coetzee converting to make it a three-point game.
Olivier kicked another two penalties while Schooney slotted the home side's first after three earlier misses to reduce the gap to six points at halftime.
Raiders missed another six points from the tee before lock Jack du Toit and hooker Alfred Ries barged over for Rustenburg. Both tries were converted while Schooney was eventually successful with a penalty in between the touchdowns.
Impala seemingly out of range at 30-13 with 15 minutes to play but Schooney cut the deficit to 10 with a converted try two minutes later as the home crowd lifted their voices in support.
In the 79th minute, visiting captain Leon du Plessis was sin-binned for a shoulder charge, Raiders utilising the one-man advantage to send their skipper Harold Primo over but the conversion went to the right.
The hooter blasted during the restart and trailing by five Raiders surged up-field. Impala were down to 13 men due to repeated infringements and could not hold on deep into injury time with replacement Ashwill Adams going over untouched to spark wild celebrations in the stands.
Schooney then had the chance to send his club to George but the conversion from virtually in front went inches wide of the left-hand upright – heartbreak for the wild cards who will rue the 19 points they missed with the boot.
And at the Green Point Track in Cape Town, Despatch booked a titanic quarter-final against Pretoria Police when they saw off the spirited challenge of SK Walmers, while another wild card, Bloemfontein Crusaders, finished their campaign on a high when they beat BB Truck & Tractor Noordelikes 39-17.
Community Cup Easter Championship fixtures (Outeniqua Park, George)
Thursday 28 March – Cup Quarter-finals (Matches scheduled for 12h00, 14h00, 16h00, 18h00. Match order to be confirmed):
Match 41 – Rustenburg Impala vs Pacaltsdorp Evergreens
Match 42 – Pretoria Police vs GAP Despatch
Match 43 – Brakpan vs Roodepoort
Match 44 – Jonsson College Rovers vs Durbanville-Bellville