The well-drilled EP Kings were in firm control in the second half as they beat the Border Bulldogs 35-19 (half-time 10-6) in their Absa Currie Cup First Division match at the Buffalo City Municipal Stadium in East London on Friday.
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 eighthman 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 eighthman Theunis Lambrechts and four penalties in a brave display.
Border scored first through a seventh-minute penalty by flyhalf Reinhardt Gerber and the Kings only opened their account in the 17th minute when flyhalf Wesley Dunlop slotted a penalty.
The Bulldogs had their best try-scoring chance of the first half six minutes later when an up-and-under by Quinton Crocker was brilliantly claimed by wing Chumani Booi, who then fed the fullback up in support. But Crocker decided to cut inside instead of heading for the tryline as powerful Samoan wing Paul Perez came charging across in cover defence, leading to a ruck and a penalty for Border, which Gerber missed.
By now the Kings were using their dominance in the collisions to good effect and Du Preez scored their first try after 10 phases of driving play. Dunlop converted and, although Gerber cut the deficit to 6-10 with another penalty, the excitement was still upcoming as Eastern Province finally hit fifth gear straight after half-time.
Dunlop, one of the people to relocate to Port Elizabeth in the wake of the Kings' promotion to SuperRugby, kicked a penalty soon after the restart and the Bulldogs were immediately pinned back in their 22 and desperately trying to defend a series of forward drives that led to a couple of penalties. Border were unable to defend the rolling maul off the lineout and Du Preez had his second try in the 45th minute.
Strong running by Perez and centre Tiger Mangweni then displaced the Bulldogs defence in the 51st minute, leading to another Dunlop penalty (23-6).
But Border have their attacking routines well-rehearsed and a counter-attack allowed them to record their third penalty in the 57th minute, kicked by replacement flyhalf Jannie Myburgh.
Du Preez's hat-trick try probably won't make the season's highlights reel as it came from yet another rolling maul, stretching the Eastern Province lead to 28-9 on the hour mark.
Bulldogs captain and flank Gareth Krause managed to latch on to the ball in a ruck and force a penalty, kicked by Myburgh, three minutes later, but the outcome was settled with the home side trailing 12-28.
The best two tries of the match followed in the last 13 minutes, with Mangweni scything through to add another try to his considerable album, before Border eighthman Lambrechts claimed a loose pass and then showed great deternination to grab his try, bouncing off Mangweni, eluding two other tacklers and then barging through replacement wing Siyanda Grey on his way over the line.
It was merely a consolation score for the Bulldogs but, to their credit, they showed little evidence of low morale after suffering their 11th successive defeat.
BORDER BULLDOGS - Try: Theunis Lambrechts. Conversion: Jannie Myburgh. Penalties: Reinhardt Gerber (2), Myburgh (2).
EP KINGS - Tries: Cornell du Preez (3), Tiger Mangweni. Conversions: Wesley Dunlop (3). Penalties: Dunlop (3).