Winger Brendon April scored at the death as the Boland Cavaliers came from behind to beat the Border Bulldogs 45-40 (halftime 26-22) in a free-flowing Vodacom Cup try-fest at the Boland Stadium in Wellington on Friday afternoon.
The Bulldogs looked to be on the verge of registering their first win in six attempts in this year's competition, leading 40-38 with barely three minutes remaining, but the visitors produced a fatal unforced error when they lost possession at a lineout on halfway.
That lapse was all the desperate home side needed, April ghosting through down the left-hand side after a prolonged build-up (which included a penalty advantage in front of the posts) to give his team every chance of qualifying for the quarterfinals.
The Cavaliers took just three minutes to get into their stride, wing Adam Barlow scooting home down the left-hand touchline after being put into a gap by roving flanker Franzil September. Flyhalf Elgar Watts added the extra points.
The Bulldogs replied in stirring fashion, scoring three tries in double-quick time to lead 19-7 after 15 minutes, left wing Vuyo Mbotho, scrumhalf Ntando Kebe and loping eighthman Lubabalo Mzwakali dotting down.
Flyhalf Ntabeni Dukisa added two conversions and a penalty to take the Bulldogs' tally to 22, but the Cavaliers then went tit-for-tat, scoring three tries themselves to wrestle back the initiative.
September initiated the comeback, being rewarded for a good game with a try after 20 minutes.
With play see-sawing from end to end, hooker Ashton Constant brought the Bolanders to within three points when he rounded off a flowing movement that included a galloping run by lock PJ van Zyl.
Then, with the halftime hooter having already sounded, Watts broke through on halfway and fed fullback Jacquin Jansen, who evaded the cross cover for the first of his two tries.
The second half continued in the same vein as the first, Cavaliers eighthman Zandre Jordaan extending his side's lead to nine points with a try in the 42nd minute.
But the Bulldogs were having none of it, hooker Matthew Taljaard bursting through some weak tackling three minutes later to make it 31-29.
The visitors were then gifted the lead when fullback Logan Basson dived on a loose ball that had been kicked back over the Boland tryline.
Jacquin scored a second to put Boland back in front, but Dukisa, who battled with the boot, found his range with two penalties to send the match into a nailbiting final 15 minutes.
The Bulldogs looked to have done enough for the win, but it has been proved time and again that matches are lost in the dying minutes when teams, in trying to hang on for the win, lose concentration at a crucial moment.
And so it happened here.
Boland Cavaliers - Tries: Adam Barlow, Franzil September, Ashton Constant, Jacquin Jansen (2), Zandre Jordaan, Brendon April. Conversions: Elgar Watts (4), Ricardo Croy.
Border Bulldogs - Tries: Vuyo Mbotho, Ntando Kebe, Lubabalo Mzwakali, Matthew Taljaard, Logan Basson. Conversions: Ntabeni Dukisa (3). Penalties: Dukisa (3).