Two tries in the final 13 minutes by replacement Stefan Willemse helped the Eastern Province Kings throw the race for the Absa Currie Cup First Division playoff spots wide open after a 44-26 (25-12) victory over the Leopards in Potchefstroom on Friday.
The big lock, who was thrown on for the final quarter of the game, crossed in the 67th and 74th minutes, overturning a one-point deficit for the visitors at Profert Olen Park into a comfortable 18-point bonus-point win.
The men from Port Elizabeth outscored their hosts by six tries to four on a windy afternoon in the North West with the full five-point haul helping them leapfrog the Leopards as they jumped from fourth to second on the log with four games remaining.
It was a surprisingly flat performance from the home side considering they themselves boosted their top four hopes by moving into second last weekend.
They fell behind inside the opening minute to a George Whitehead penalty, before captain Edgar Marutlulle helped them hit back via the opening try, converted by Adriaan Engelbrecht.
Winger Luther Obi, one of the form wingers of the First Division, then doubled their try tally and extended the lead to 12-3 by the end of the first quarter.
But the Leopards then went to sleep for the next 20 minutes as Cornell du Plessis, Samora Fihlani and Michael Killian all crossed the whitewash before the interval. Whitehead converted two of those tries to go with a penalty as the lead was a healthy 13 points at the turnover.
The hosts then came out firing after the restart, though, and after tries by George Tossel and Luvuyiso Lusaseni, they moved back into the lead as the clock ticked past the hour.
Lock Willemse then entered play and the provided the kick missing from the Kings’ attack.
After Siyabonga Mangweni ran in to give Eastern Province the lead again, Willemse added the finishing touches to end any hopes of a comeback with his late double, the second of which was converted by Whitehead for a personal 14-point haul.
The Leopards did at least pick up a bonus point for their four tries, but they ended the game disappointed.
Leopards – Tries: Edgar Marutlulle, Luther Obi, George Tossel, Luvuyiso Lusaseni. Conversions: Adriaan Engelbrecht (3).
Eastern Province Kings – Tries: Stefan Willemse (2), Cornell du Plessis, Samora Fihlani, Michael Killian, Siyabonga Mangweni. Conversion: George Whitehead (4). Penalties: Whitehead (2).