Paul Perez ran in a hat-trick of tries to lead the EP Kings to a 50-20 victory (halftime 20-10) over the Leopards and a place in the Absa Currie Cup First Division final after their semifinal at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Friday.
Left wing Perez scored two superb long-range tries while his third try was a close-range effort with the Samoan proving devastating almost every time he received the ball.
The victory means that the Kings remain unbeaten this season after 12 wins and two draws during the league phase of the competition and they will now host the Ford Pumas in the final next weekend.
The Kings made a superb start to the match as they leapt into a 15-0 lead after just 17 minutes.
EP flyhalf George Whitehead opened the scoring with an early penalty before Perez grabbed his first try, in the eighth minute, as he showed power and speed to outflank the Leopards’ defence from 40 metres out.
The Kings were starting to look as if they had the match well in hand and nine minutes later eighthman Luke Watson was mauled over the line for his 13th try of the season.
Unfortunately for Watson he left the match late in the half with an ankle injury.
The Leopards had looked well out of the contest but they clawed their way back through a drop goal from former South Africa pivot Andre Pretorius and with 10 minutes left in the half they grabbed a try when they opted to take a quick tap penalty five metres from the Kings’ line and burly prop BG Uys crashed his way over for a converted score.
But it was Perez who had the last say in the half when he burst clear from the Leopards’ 10-metre line before setting off on a weaving run that saw him beat or outpace six men on his way to the tryline as the Kings reached the break holding a 20-10 lead.
However, it was the Leopards that drew blood first in the second half as they took the ball through six phases before bulky hooker Edgar Marutlulle ran clear from a ruck 30 metres out and he showed a wonderful turn of pace to get in for a converted try.
But the Kings hit back almost immediately when fullback SP Marais’ incisive run set up a try for loosehead prop Schalk Ferreira.
Pretorius narrowed the gap with a 49th minute penalty but Whitehead struck back with a penalty of his own in the 62nd minute.
Perez completed his hat-trick six minutes later after some wonderful interplay between EP’s backs and forwards allowed the wing to stretch out and score in the right-hand corner.
The Kings made sure of the victory when left wing Marcello Sampson forced his way over although there was a consolation try for the Leopards through wing Allister Kettledas.
EP were rampant though and in the last two minutes replacement flyhalf Wesley Dunlop kicked a penalty before Marais went over for a well deserved try.
EP KINGS – Tries: Paul Perez (3), Luke Watson, Schalk Ferreira, Marcello Sampson, SP Marais; Conversions: George Whitehead (2), Wesley Dunlop; Penalties: Whitehead (2), Dunlop.
LEOPARDS – Tries: BG Uys, Edgar Marutlulle, Allister Kettledas; Conversions: Andre Pretorius (3); Penalty: Pretorius; Drop goal: Pretorius.