The Golden Lions on Thursday produced a thrilling 20-19 victory on the penultimate day of the Coca-Cola Craven Week to establish themselves as one of the top teams in the tournament.
The victory marked their second in this the 50th edition of this prestigious event, a feat only four teams achieved, ahead of the final day’s play on Saturday.
The other unbeaten teams were Western Province, Border and Zimbabwe.
SWD also showed their class in a thrilling day’s action as they thumped Eastern Province 40-14 after running in an impressive six tries to show their character after going down 34-27 against the Lions on Tuesday.
The clash between the Johannesburg side and Free State was a tight affair from the outset, with the forwards delivering physical performances up-front, which was balanced by entertaining running rugby by the backs.
Such was the tight tussle in the first half, only one try was scored by Lions centre Fernando Kermis, with the rest of the points scored compliments of penalties by Free State centre Stephen Rautenbach and his Johannesburg counterpart Erwin Harris, which handed the Lions a narrow 11-9 lead.
The Gauteng-based team, however, came out firing in the second half and created a few try-scoring chances, but they were denied by the resilient Free State defence.
This forced them to settle for another penalty for their 14-9 lead. The Bloemfontein side, however, hit back with a well-deserved try after applying pressure on attack and kept the score-board ticking with penalties to sneak into a 19-14 lead.
But this did not dampen the Lions’ spirits as they slotted over two penalties in the last 10 minutes to seal the victory.
This win is expected to book the team a place in the grand finale of the tournament on Saturday against either Western Province or Border.
SWD, meanwhile, played smart rugby against Eastern Province, which set them up for their 40-14 victory.
The George team camped in Eastern Province’s half for a large part of the first 35 minutes and played innovative attacking rugby thanks to their instinctive flyhalf Dewald Human.
Left wing Duhan van der Merwe also showed his class and speed as he ran in two tries in the first half to push his team into a 14-0 lead. SWD continued their territorial domination in the second half, and wasted no time inflating their score thanks to a skip pass by Human to Donavan van der Berg for their third try and a 21-0 lead.
Eastern Province, however, hit back with a try under the posts after stringing together several phases and crossed the chalk for another try a few minutes later. But this proved insignificant as SWD continued their fine form on attack with four second-half tries to cancel out EP’s efforts.
In other matches the Griffons defeated Eastern Province Country Districts 26-20, the Valke thumped Griquas Country Districts 44-24 and the Leopards smashed Border Country Districts 64-0.
The competing 20 teams will enjoy a day off on Friday and to relax ahead of Saturday’s matches.
Meanwhile Western Province’s Herschel Jantjies and Rikus Bothma were both cleared to play in their final match after being cited on Wednesday for dangerous tackles, meaning they should be able to field their strongest side for Saturday’s clash.
Coca-Cola Craven Week Day 4 results:
Golden Lions 20 -19 Free State
Eastern Province 14 – 40 SWD
Griffons 26 – 20 EP CD
Valke 44 - 24 Griquas CD
Leopards 64 – 0 Border CD