Flyhalf Hansie Graaff’s late conversion helped the Griffons fight back at the death to clinch a dramatic 50-49 (31-22) victory over the SWD Eagles at North West Stadium in Welkom on Saturday.
The home side were trailing by six points with three minutes to go on the clock, but Japie Nel went over for his second try of the game, followed by a tough kick from Graaff, who sent the ball over from close to the left touchline.
It ended a dramatic encounter in which both sides went all-out in pursuit of a semifinal spot, with the Free Staters coming out on top despite being outscored by eight tries to seven.
There was a hat-trick from winger Ghafoer Luckan of SWD, who are now remain fifth in the race for playoff spots, although the two bonus points they gained still gives them outside belief of making the last four.
They have 38 points and a win on the final day coupled by a loss for the fourth-placed Griffons (43) without any points will put the Eagles through, courtesy of their superior points-difference.
The Leopards in third can also still be caught, although they have a far better overall points tally.
The match had begun with the home side racing into a 10-lead after six minutes thanks to a penalty from Graaff, who scored 20 points in total, and a converted Nicky Steyn score.
The visitors hit back in the 19th minute when Luckan scored the first of his tries, followed by a superb solo try by Graaff after he broke the line inside his own half and ran over 50 metres to score.
Just before the 30-minute mark, Luckan and his fullback teammate Elric van Vuuren hit back with tries for the Griffons, followed by a powerful Nel charge that took him over.
Wing Shane Hancke grabbed the bonus-point try for the Griffons four minutes before the interval courtesy of another assist pass by Graaff.
But some sloppy play allowed Alshaun Bock to chip over the home defence, collect unmarked and score an easy try on the stroke of the interval when the gap was nine points.
After the restart, Luckan completed his hat-trick, but Sarel Louw helped the host keep their noses in front with another converted try.
Nicolaas Hanekom and Dumisane Meslane scored in quick succession just before the 60-minute point, with both tries converted by new kicker Burton Francis as the lead was lost for the first time by the Griffons.
Mzoxolo Dyantyi and Werner Griesel then exchanged uncovered tries as the end drew closer and with the visitors still ahead.
Francis, who took over from the inconsistent Van Vuuren, slotted over a penalty that looked to have settled the tie, but Nel and Graaff hard the final say as Welkom celebrated.
Griffons – Tries: Japie Nel (2), Nicky Steyn, Hansie Graaff, Shane Hancke, Sarel Louw, Werner Griesel. Conversions: Graaff (6). Penalty:
SWD Eagles – Tries: Ghafoer Luckan (3), Elric van Vuuren, Alshaun Bock, Nicolaas Hanekom, Dumisane Meslane, Mzoxolo Dyantyi.
Conversions: Burton Francis (2), Van Vuuren. Penalties: Francis.