The Leopards moved to the top of the log standings when they edged the Eastern Province Kings 22-18 (half-time 17-9) in their Absa Currie Cup First Division rugby match at NMB stadium in Port Elizabeth on Friday.
After opening victories over the Boland Cavaliers and the Falcons, the Leopards were made to fight for their third victory even though they scored three tries to none. Outplayed in the first half, the Kings rallied in the second and came back dramatically and thought they had won the game in the dying seconds only to have a try turned down due to a handling error in the in-goal area.
The Leopards will leave Port Elizabeth thrilled with the away win while the Kings will have been left mulling over their second defeat in three matches.
The Leopards opened the scoring as early as the fifth minute when left wing Edmar Marais scored by jinxing inside after a full line movement. Flyhalf Meel Engelbrecht was successful with the conversion.
The Kings were on the board five minutes later as Scott van Breda slotted a 45 metre penalty. Almost directly from the resultant restart, Engelbrecht restored the seven-point lead with a penalty of his own.
Flyhalf Wesley Dunlop kept EP in the game through 28 minutes with two penalties but the Leopards were looking dangerous on attack.
Their persistence paid off five minutes before the break when No 8 Morne Hanekom crashed over for his team's second try after the ball had moved through numerous phases. Engelbrecht was again on target with the kick and the Leopards went into halftime with a deserved lead.
Eastern Province, who had posted the high ball whenever the opportunity presented itself in the first half, opted to retain possession from the start of the second. And the result, at least for most of the second half, was a turnaround in dominance. The Leopards had been the best side for the first 40 minutes but a motivated homeside starved them of ball in the second.
With Dunlop off the field injured, Van Breda took command of the place kicks and punished the Leopards' mistakes by slotting two penalty attempts before the top of the hour to bring EP to within two points.
But, with 10 minutes remaining, the Leopards awoke from their slumber to create some continuity which resulted in scrumhalf Johann Laker sniping over for a try in the corner. This time, Engelbrecht missed the kick and there were seven points in the game.
Breda took advantage of another Leopards transgression to narrow the difference to 22-18. The match finished with the Leopards weathering a storm from the homeside. In fact, EP thought they won the game when number eight Dalton Davis crashed over the tryline only for referee Sindile Mayende to rule the knock-on.
EP - Penalties: Scott van Breda (4), Wesley Dunlop (2).
Leopards - Tries: Edmar Marais, Morne Hanekom, Johann Laker; Conversions: Meel Engelbrecht (2); Penalties: Meel Engelbrecht.