THE Griffons remain the surprise early front-runners in the expanded Absa Currie Cup First Division after picking up their third successive five-point haul in a 29-24 victory over the Border Bulldogs in Welkom on Friday afternoon.
In what is rapidly developing into an intriguing competition, defending champions the Regent Boland Kavaliers slipped to their third defeat on the trot, going down 23-21 to the Leopards at the Wesbank Rugby Club grounds in Malmesbury.
Friday's other match saw the SWD Eagles move to third on the eight-team log following an encouraging 22-16 win in George against the Ford Pumas, while the EP Kings retained their unbeaten record with a 37-20 away win over the Valke in Kempton Park that moves the men from Port Elizabeth to second place.
Griffons (10) 29 Border Bulldogs (3) 24
The Griffons continued their unbeaten run when they overcame a gutsy Bulldogs team at the North West Stadium, with the competition's top point-scorer, left wing Reinhardt Erwee, scoring two tries and kicking three conversions and a penalty to give the men from Welkom a full house of 15 log points after three matches.
The Bulldogs scored three good tries, which gave the East London side a bonus point, but they nevertheless slumped to a third straight defeat and Border fans look set for yet another long season propping up the table.
Both sides showed enterprise in less-than-ideal conditions and produced seven tries between them, with Erwee joined on the Griffons' team sheet by barnstorming centre Japie Nel and his twinkle-toed midfield partner Werner Griesel.
For the Bulldogs, who trailed 10-0 early on and spent most of the first half tackling their opponents, livewire replacement scrumhalf Sinovuyo Nyoka scored a try on the hour that kept his side in the game, while late tries from fullback Thembani Mkokeli and right wing Chrislyn van Schalkwyk at least ensured that the visitors would not return to the Eastern Cape empty-handed.
Griffons – Tries: Werner Griesel, Reinhardt Erwee (2), Japie Nel. Conversions: Erwee (3). Penalty: Erwee.
Bulldogs – Tries: Thembani Mkokeli, Sinovuyo Nyoka, Chrislyn van Schalkwyk. Conversions: Louis Kruger (2), Ntabeni Dukisa. Penalty: Dukisa.
Regent Boland Kavaliers (7) 21 Leopards (10) 23
The Wesbank Rugby Club grounds in Malmesbury proved to be an unhappy hunting ground for the Regent Boland Kavaliers who, despite finishing strongly against the visiting Leopards, slumped to their third defeat of the season.
Things could have been very different however, as home flyhalf Elgar Watts missed an injury-time penalty from the touchline that would have given the Bolanders victory.
Both sides scored three tries, but it was replacement flanker Milroy Isaacs' late effort for the Kavaliers which brought the biggest cheer of the afternoon from the 1,300-strong crowd, who sensed a famous come-from-behind win victory.
But it was not to be as the Leopards defended manfully for the last 10 minutes to take the spoils. The visitors enjoyed a perfect start, going 7-0 up after just five minutes thanks to a try from second-rower Siyanda Ndlovu and a conversion by veteran former Springbok flyhalf Andrè Pretorius.
Watts brought the Kavaliers to within three points of the Leopards at the break when he darted through for a try he converted himself. The home side took the lead after halftime with a converted try to flanker Franzel September, but a 13-point spree by the Leopards gave them a lead that, in the final analysis, proved to be just enough.
Kavaliers – Tries: Milroy Isaacs, Franzel September, Elgar Watts. Conversions: Watts (3).
Leopards – Tries: Siyanda Ndlovu, Hoffman Maritz, Edgar Marutlulle. Conversion: Andrè Pretorius. Penalties: Adriaan Engelbrecht (2).
SWD Eagles (9) 22 Ford Pumas (8) 16
Former DHL WP and Stormers flyhalf Kurt Coleman was the hero for the SWD Eagles at Outeniqua Park in George as his faultless personal haul of 14 points made all the difference in a hard-fought victory over the Ford Pumas.
The visitors raced to an early 8-0 lead thanks to a try from flanker RW Kember and a penalty from flyhalf JC Roos, but any fears the home supporters had that their side would be outmuscled were allayed as the Eagles slowly but surely fought their way back.
Such was SWD's turnaround that they actually led 22-11 until an injury-time try from the Pumas gave the men from Mpumalanga, whose indiscipline was telling in the final outcome, a losing bonus point.
Coleman capitalised on the Pumas' indiscretions with four well-taken penalties, while the pivot also converted his halfback partner Johan Herbst's 44th-minute try on a cold and wet Southern Cape evening.
Eagles – Try: Johan Herbst. Conversion: Kurt Coleman. Penalties: Coleman (4), Theuns Kotze.
Pumas – Tries: RW Kember, Renaldo Bothma. Penalties: JC Roos (2).
Valke (8) 20 EP Kings (24) 37
The EP Kings picked up their third win in a row with a convincing away victory over the Valke at an icy Barnard Stadium in Kempton Park.
The visitors had the match virtually sewn up by halftime as they led 24-8 thanks to tries from prodigal son Michael Killian – who has returned to Port Elizabeth after a successful spell at the Lions – Kiwi prop Clint Newland and former Springbok wing Jongi Nokwe.
The Valke were dealt an early blow when tighthead prop Nico Engelbrecht was injured and his replacement, Hannes Ludik, was sin-binned shortly afterwards to give the Kings a one-man advantage that Killian took advantage of.
Tireless Valke eighthman Reg Muller scored his team's first try just before the break, but the Kings responded after halftime with a try to replacement prop Lizo Gqoboka that made it 31-8.
The Valke fought back strongly with tries to wing JW Bell and replacement loose forward Uzair Cassiem to cut the deficit to 11 points, but the Kings, showing good composure, closed out the game with two penalties from the boot of replacement flyhalf Wesley Dunlop.
Valke – Tries: JW Bell, Reg Muller, Uzair Cassiem. Conversion: Karlo Aspeling. Penalty: Aspeling.
Kings – Tries: Michael Killian, Lizo Gqoboka, Jongi Nokwe, Clint Newland. Conversions: George Whitehead (4). Penalties: Whitehead, Wesley Dunlop (2).