The Steval Pumas kept their unbeaten record intact with a determined fightback to edge out EP Kings 33-32 (8-13) their Currie Cup first division match at Mbombela Stadium on Friday night.
RW Kember, the 30-year-old No 8, snatched his third try in added time to break the Kings’ hearts as they looked to make up ground on the runaway log leaders. The visitors had led 25-11 well into the second half with a four-try spree, and securing a bonus point, before Kember prised open the defence, scoring the first of his tries.
It was bitterly disappointing result for the Kings, who rolled out the big guns from their Super Rugby campaign. Only three members of the team that had narrowly beaten the Border Bulldogs 9-6 last week were retained in the run-on side.
Apart from the incentive of prize money announced last week, there was also the hint that the Currie Cup premier division would be expanded to eight teams next year, and the Kings, deeply hurt by the loss of their Super Rugby status, desperately need to be in the higher division to give their players greater challenge and incentive.
But the Pumas have made all the running in the division so far and were not going to surrender without a fight. They were fortunate to trail by just five points at halftime, for Scott van Breda missed the conversions of his own try and that of Michael Killian, as well as a penalty, to which the Pumas had answered with a try by hooker Jacques Momberg and a penalty by Carl Bezuidenhout.
They came out with greater purpose in the second half and spread the ball wide at every opportunity. They stuck to their adventurous game plan even when tries by Steven Sykes and ‘Tiger’ Mangweni helped to expand the gap to 25-11.
That’s when Kember broke through, and a conversion and penalty by Bezuidenhout brought the score to 25-21. Nick Vergallo added a fifth try for the Kings, but Kember hit back soon after with his second, cutting the gap to 32-28.
The Pumas were never going to be satisfied with a losing bonus point, so with time running out, they opted to put a penalty to the lineout, and from there they battered away at the Kings’ line relentlessly. The siren sounded, but still they went through the phases until at last a gap opened for the rugged No 8.
For the Kings, two bonus points was scant consolation.
Steval Pumas – Tries: Jacques Momberg, RW Kember (3); conversions: Carl Bezuidenhout (2); penalties Bezuidenhout (3)
EP Kings — Tries: Michael Killian, Scott van Breda, Steven Sykes, Siyabonga Mangweni, Nicholas Vergallo; conversions: George Whitehead (2); penalty: Van Breda