The unbeaten Eastern Province Kings kept their closest challengers the Ford Pumas at arm's length at the top of the Absa Currie Cup First Division standings after a 45-24 victory over the Valke in Port Elizabeth on Friday.
With four rounds remaining of the expanded eight-team competition, the Kings have 45 points – eight more than the second-placed Pumas, who did all they could to keep the pressure on the title favourites with a 70-27 hammering of the SWD Eagles in Nelspruit on Saturday.
The Griffons remain third thanks to a 53-33 victory in East London over the Border Bulldogs, who remain winless and rooted to the bottom of the log after 10 matches.
And in the final match of the weekend, the Leopards came from behind to beat the defending champion Regent Boland Kavaliers 39-34 in Potchefstroom to remain to fourth. The Kavaliers, meanwhile, stay in sixth place following their seventh defeat of what has been a disappointing season so far.
Border Bulldogs (12) 33 Griffons (25) 53
Martin Sithole ran in a hat-trick of tries as the Griffons saw off a second-half fightback from the Border Bulldogs to claim an impressive away win at the Buffalo City Municipal Stadium on Friday.
Flank Sithole scored all three of his five-pointers in the second half with his second and third tries helping to put away a determined Border outfit that had clawed their way back into the contest with three converted tries in the space of six minutes.
The Bulldogs had been trailing 39-12 but the three tries, from flankers Brian Shabangu and Shane Spring and tighthead prop Marius Visser, meant that the hosts narrowed the gap to 39-33 with 22 minutes left in the contest.
But Sithole, who turned in a wonderful performance with his support play being particularly impressive, scored two late tries to deny Border their first win of the season.
Veteran left wing Shane Hancke dotted down twice for the visitors while flyhalf Hansie Graaff enjoyed a good night with the boot as he collected 18 points courtesy of six conversions and two penalties.
Bulldogs – Tries: Shane Spring, Ruan Jacobs, Quinton Crocker, Marius Visser, Brian Shabangu. Conversions: Reinhardt Gerber (4).
Griffons – Tries: Shane Hancke (2), Martin Sithole (3), Joubert Horn, Erik le Roux. Conversions: Hansie Graaff (6). Penalties: Graaff (2).
EP Kings (19) 45 Valke (15) 24
The Eastern Province Kings turned around a second-half deficit to run in seven tries and beat a game Valke outfit at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Friday night.
The victory ensured the Kings remain unbeaten in the competition but they had to fight to keep a determined Valke team at bay. In fact, the Kings trailed 24-19 after 61 minutes but took full advantage when the visitors ran out of steam in the latter stages.
The sixth-placed Valke have scored as many tries as the top sides in the competition but have also had their problems defensively, conceding the second-most tries. And so it turned out in this match.
The Valke made it clear they did not come to Port Elizabeth to roll and over and play dead. They ran the ball at every opportunity with their forwards setting up quality ball at the same time.
But it was the Kings who got off to the brighter start with captain and No 8 Luke Watson scoring two tries in the first 15 minutes to give his team a four-point lead at the break.
They narrowed the gap to one point with a Karlo Aspeling penalty straight after the restart and then took the lead after 43 minutes through a superb Aspeling drop goal from 40m. The flyhalf then extended the cushion to five points with another penalty.
But there was always a feeling that if the Kings could lift their game a notch they would manage to take control and they did so, flanker Cornel du Preez going over for a brace followed by further scores to prop Jaco Engels and centre Wayne Stevens to complete an impressive comeback.
Kings – Tries: Wayne Stevens, Luke Watson (3), Jaco Engels, Cornell du Preez, penalty try. Conversions: George Whitehead (2), Wesley Dunlop (3).
Valke – Tries: Reg Muller, Jaco Oosthuizen. Conversion: Karlo Aspeling. Penalties: Aspeling (3). Drop goal: Aspeling.
Leopards (15) 39 Regent Boland Kavaliers (24) 34
The Leopards turned in a strong second-half performance to see off the Regent Boland Kavaliers in an entertaining match at Profert Olen Park on Saturday.
The Leopards outscored their opponents by 24 points to 10 in the second half as their powerful forwards took charge of the encounter, but both teams played their part in serving up an enjoyable match as they combined for 10 tries.
The hosts kept their semi-final hopes alive as they ran in four second-half tries, and six in total, while Boland slipped to their seventh defeat in 10 matches. However, they picked up two bonus points for their efforts against the Leopards.
The home team made an electric start to the match when they scored the first try just nine seconds after the game had started. Boland narrowed the gap thanks to two penalties from outside centre Cheswin Williams before the visitors took the lead when Williams scored an unconverted try en route to a personal haul of 19 points.
Boland may have ended the first half strongly to lead by nine points but the Leopards came out all guns blazing and they grabbed a try just 26 seconds after the restart through replacement scrumhalf Jaco Grobler.
The Kavaliers hit back seven minutes later when No 8 Zandre Jordaan intercepted a pass on the Leopards’ 10-metre line before galloping clear for a converted try.
The tries were continuing to flow and the Leopards nabbed their bonus-point try in the 53rd minute when flank Robert Kruger was mauled over to make the score 31-27 in Boland’s favour.
Williams stretched the lead with a 57th-minute penalty before the Leopards clawed their way back into the contest once again when hooker Edgar Marutlulle barged his way over in the left-hand corner for a well-deserved try.
The Leopards then hit the lead for the first time since the 30th minute when lock Brendon Snyman barged his way over from close-range for a converted try in the 67th minute to make sure of the victory.
Leopards – Tries: Robert Kruger, Marius Fourie, Jaco Grobler, Edgar Marutlulle, Brendon Snyman, Berty Visser. Conversions: André Pretorius (3). Penalty: Pretorius.
Kavaliers – Tries: Zandré Jordaan, Eric Zana, Cornal Hendricks, Cheswin Williams. Conversion: Williams. Penalties: Williams (4).
Ford Pumas (35) 70 SWD Eagles (6) 27
The Ford Pumas pulled away from the second quarter as they smashed the SWD Eagles at the Mbombela Stadium on Saturday.
The bonus-point win was vital for the Pumas as they try to prevent the EP Kings from getting too far away from them at the top of the log. The Kings temporarily stretched their lead to 13 points with their victory the previous evening over the Valke, but the Mpumalanga side ensured the gap returned to eight points at the end of the 10th of 14 rounds of league play.
If the match had been overseen by the police rather than referee Joey Salmans, the Pumas might have been charged with assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm as they steamrolled the Eagles, a dominant pack and their powerful runners in the backline running amok.
Flanker Jaco Bouwer scored a hat-trick of tries and wing Wilhelm Loock crossed twice in the space of four minutes either side of half-time.
Flyhalf JC Roos also kicked with tremendous composure and accuracy as he succeeded with all nine of his conversion attempts and replacement lock Christo le Roux kicked the 10th just for good measure.
Pumas – Tries: Wilhelm Loock (2), Uzair Cassiem, Nqubeko Zulu, JW Jonker, Jerome Pretorius, Jaco Bouwer (3), Ashwin Scott. Conversions: JC Roos (9), Christo Roos.
Eagles– Tries: Wayne Khan, Elric van Vuuren (2). Conversions: Van Vuuren (3). Penalties: Van Vuuren (2).