The Griffons all but ended the reign of the Regent Boland Kavaliers as Absa Currie Cup First Division champions after a 54-37 victory in Welkom on Saturday that leaves the Cape side 13 points adrift of the play-off zone with just three rounds remaining of the eight-team competition.
The Kavaliers, with 20 log points from their 11 matches, still have a mathematical chance of reaching the semi-finals, but they would have to pick up three bonus-point wins in their final three outings and then hope that the Leopards, on 33 points, and SWD Eagles, on 31, don't win a match between them for the remainder of the season.
The Griffons' victory meanwhile solidifies their third place on the log, and the men from Welkom, who led the standings for the first few weeks before drifting off the pace somewhat, are now one win away from sealing their place in the final four.
In the weekend's other matches, the unbeaten EP Kings picked up their 10th win of the competition in East London on Friday night with a 35-19 victory over the Border Bulldogs, who, despite yet another gutsy showing, have yet to register a victory.
The result leaves the Kings eight points clear of the second-placed Ford Pumas, who kept within striking distance thanks to a hard-fought 29-22 victory over the Valke in Kempton Park on Saturday afternoon.
And in the first match of the round, the SWD Eagles kept their semi-final hopes alive by pulling off a remarkable 64-34 victory over play-off rivals the Leopards in George on Friday night. The win moves the Eagles to 31 points – two adrift of the Potch side who suffered their fifth defeat of the season in the process.
SWD Eagles (27) 64 Leopards (20) 34
A dramatic revival in the final quarter carried the SWD Eagles to a thrilling victory over the Leopards at Outeniqua Park.
The Leopards, having fought their way back to 34-34 after 57 minutes, were left stunned as the Eagles scored three more tries, two of them to incisive scrumhalf Johan Herbst to complete his hat-trick, and resuscitated their hopes of making the semi-finals.
The Eagles started in magnificent fashion, racing to a 17-0 lead, but the visitors also showed some attacking verve and their fullback, Hoffman Maritz, crossed for a try and flyhalf Andrè Pretorius added the conversion and a 19th-minute penalty and suddenly the visitors only trailed 10-17.Van Vuuren chipped over a penalty in the 27th minute (20-10) and the Eagles then looked after the ball well for outside centre Nicolaas Hanekom to score, the fullback again adding the conversion.
It was like taking candy from babies when 23-year-old Leopards lock Victor Kruger charged over the tryline five minutes before the break and another Pretorius penalty left the Eagles bemoaning the way they had rather wasted their early advantage.
The Leopards once again conceded a try from the kick-off with left wing Ghafoer Luckan darting over, but Leopards number 11, Berty Visser, went hard and low to score in the 51st minute.
Six minutes later and, lo and behold, the Leopards were level after a try by inside centre Adriaan Engelbrecht, also converted by Pretorius.But Van Vuuren kicked a 64th-minute penalty to reclaim the lead for the Eagles, before replacement flyhalf Burton Francis slotted two well-taken drop goals within two minutes to give the Eagles a nine-point buffer.
Inside centre Jeffrey Taljard and Herbst, twice, then knifed through for tries in the last six minutes to seal an exciting win.
SWD Eagles – Tries: Nico Hanekom, Johan Herbst (3), Jeff Taljard, Ghafoer Luckan, Clint Wagman. Conversions: Elric van Vuuren (7). Penalties: Van Vuuren (3). Drop goals: Burton Francis (2).
Leopards – Tries: Victor Kruger, Hoffman Maritz, Berty Visser, Adriaan Engelbrecht. Conversions: André Pretorius (4). Penalties: Pretorius (2).
Border Bulldogs (6) 19 Eastern Province Kings (10) 35
The well-drilled EP Kings were in firm control in the second half as they beat the Border Bulldogs at the Buffalo City Municipal Stadium.
Credit must be given to the Kings management for their effective game plan and for keeping the team focused after a frustrating first half. The Kings, physically superior to the gutsy but outmatched Bulldogs, used their most effective weapon, the rolling maul, well as No 8 Cornell du Preez scored a hat-trick of tries from that tactic.
Du Preez benefited because the Kings were without the services of marquee player Luke Watson, but he was not missed as the sheer physicality and forward power of Eastern Province always gave them the edge over the Bulldogs.
The home side were reduced to surviving on scraps of possession and their banditry did bring them a fine try by No 8 Theunis Lambrechts and four penalties in a brave display.
Border Bulldogs – Try: Theunis Lambrechts. Conversion: Jannie Myburgh. Penalties: Myburgh (2), Reinhardt Gerber (2).
EP Kings – Tries: Tiger Mangweni, Cornell du Preez (3). Conversions: Wesley Dunlop (3). Penalties: Dunlop (3).
Griffons (28) 54 Regent Boland Kavaliers (25) 37
The Griffons ran in eight tries to five as they completed an entertaining victory over the Regent Boland Kavaliers at the North West Stadium.
In what was an open game, the visitors were in the contest until the final five minutes, before late tries from captain Werner Griesel and substitute Thabang Molefe sealed the win.
Franzel September grabbed a hat-trick of for the defending champions, but his effort was in vain as they slumped to an eighth loss from 11 matches this season.
The hosts began strongly and were ahead inside the opening six minutes thanks to centre Japie Nel crossing the whitewash.
Flyhalf Hansie Graaff added the first of seven conversions, before the visitors hit back when flank September went over after nine minutes following some poor tackling, fullback Jacquin Jansen sending over the extras.
A penalty from Jansen then helped Boland hit the lead, before a Brendon April score further stretched the advantage just before the first quarter. But a Cameron Jacobs effort added to a penalty try, which led to visiting skipper Bolla Conradie sent to the sin bin, either side of the half-hour mark helped the home side retake the advantage.
With the Cape side down to 14 men, Joubert Horn took full advantage by scoring a fourth try for his side, before September went over from a line-out to keep his side in the contest at half time.
After the restart, though, Shane Hancke put the Griffons clear again, but the game became more of an arm wrestle as September and Siviwe Magaba exchanged tries with Martin Sithole, who landed his sixth touchdown in three matches.
The score remained 40-37 until the last five minutes when Griesel and Molefe went over to seal the win.
Griffons – Tries: Werner Griesel, Thabang Molefe, Shane Hancke, Martin Sithole, Joubert Horn, Japie Nel, Cameron Jacobs, penalty try. Conversions: Hansie Graaff (6), Griesel.
Kavaliers – Tries: Siviwe Magaba, Franzel September (3), Brendon April. Conversions: Jacquin Jansen (3). Penalties: Jansen (2).
Valke (12) 22 Ford Pumas (7) 29
JC Roos turned in a superb display for the Ford Pumas as they claimed a come-from-behind victory over the Valke at the Barnard Stadium.
The young flyhalf scored a try and also kicked three conversions and a penalty as his team overturned a 12-point deficit at one stage to consolidate their second-place positioning on the log.
The Pumas crossed four times in total to ensure a bonus point as well with winger Wilhelm Loock and captain JW Jonker claiming the other tries.
They started out poorly and were reduced to 14 men early on when De-Jay Terblanche was yellow carded, with the home side taking the lead via a try by their captain Jacques Nieuwenhuis.
Karlo Aspeling added the conversion, but then missed another attempt when Anrich Richter scored again for the Valke, giving them a 12-0 lead after 23 minutes. Roos scored his try before the half-hour mark to leave the Mpumalanga visitors trailing by five points at the interval.
After the restart, Willem Odendaal stretched the lead for the hosts when he went over for a second converted try. But Roos landed a penalty, before missing another, although it mattered little as Loock went in for a second try for the Pumas.
Then after 62 minutes, they hit the lead for the very first time and remained there.
Valke – Tries: Willie Odendaal, Jacques Nieuwenhuis, Anrich Richter. Conversions: Karlo Aspeling (2). Penalty: Juan Kotze.
Ford Pumas – Tries: Wilhelm Loock, Naas Olivier, JW Jonker, JC Roos. Conversions: Roos (3). Penalty: Roos.