THE Eastern Province Kings will play the Ford Pumas for the right to be called Absa Currie Cup First Division champions after the two sides recorded hard-fought victories over the Leopards and Griffons respectively in Friday's semi-finals.
The unbeaten Kings are also safe in the knowledge that, whatever happens in this coming Saturday's final at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth, they are guaranteed of playing a promotion-relegation match against the bottom-placed Premier Division side for the chance to be part of the top flight in 2013.
Alan Solomons' men earned their shot at promotion after finishing top of the First Division log, thanks to 12 wins and two draws in their 14 matches. Intriguingly, in the context of the final, is the fact that both draws came against the Pumas.
The men from Mpumalanga qualified for the final thanks to a 37-30 victory over the Griffons at Nelspruit's Mbombela Stadium, while a hat-trick of tries from Kings wing Paul Perez help set up a 50-27 win over the Leopards at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Ford Pumas (22) 37 Griffons (16) 30
The Ford Pumas advanced to the First Division final after a hard-fought win over the Griffons in Nelspruit on Friday.
The hosts scored five tries to three but only held a seven-point lead over their opponents after 52 minutes.
The Pumas made a lightning-fast start, roaring into a 14-0 lead after seven minutes with scrumhalf Shaun Venter opening the scoring and fullback Coenie van Wyk galloping 55 metres shortly afterwards.
The Griffons could have been forgiven for being shell-shocked but they kept their interest in the contest alive with two penalties from flyhalf Hansie Graaff.
The Pumas soon re-established their superiority when flank Jaco Bouwer was mauled over for an unconverted try in the 26th minute as the hosts moved into a 19-6 lead.
Graaff and opposite number JC Roos exchanged penalties before the Griffons battled their way back into contention when scrumhalf Inus Kritzinger scored.
Shortly before the break Van Wyk was yellow-carded for intentionally killing the ball but despite being a man down, the Pumas made a good start to the second half with an early Roos penalty and a try to centre Jerome Pretorius.
But the Griffons hit back in the 52nd minute when wing Shane Hancke's try saw the visitors narrow the deficit to seven points.
But as the match entered the final quarter the Pumas took the ball through six phases before inside centre JW Jonker slid over in the right-hand corner for a converted try.
The try made sure of the win but the Griffons did manage a consolation score when replacement prop Rudi Britz rumbled over after the hooter.
Pumas – Tries: Shaun Venter, JW Jonker, Jaco Bouwer, Coenie van Wyk, Carl Bezuidenhout. Conversions: JC Roos (3). Penalties: Roos (2).
Griffons – Tries: Shane Hancke, Rudi Britz, Inus Kritzinger. Conversions: Hansie Graaff (3). Penalties: Graaff (3).
EP Kings (20) 50 Leopards (10) 27
Paul Perez ran in a hat-trick of tries to lead the EP Kings to a solid home win over the Leopards and so earn themselves a place in the Absa Currie Cup First Division final.
Wing Perez scored two superb long-range tries with the Samoan proving devastating almost every time he received the ball.
The Kings made a superb start as they raced into a 15-0 lead after 17 minutes. EP flyhalf George Whitehead opened the scoring with an early penalty before Perez grabbed his first try in the eighth minute.
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 Springbok flyhalf André Pretorius and a try from prop BG Uys.
But it was Perez who had the last say in the half when he burst clear from the Leopards’ 10-metre line.
It was the Leopards who drew blood first in the second half when hooker Edgar Marutlulle ran clear from a ruck 30 metres out. But the Kings hit back almost immediately when fullback SP Marais’ incisive run set up a try for loosehead prop Schalk Ferreira.
Perez completed his hat-trick six minutes later after some wonderful interplay between EP’s backs and forwards allowed the wing to 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, the competition's top try-scorer.
Kings – Tries: SP Marais, Schalk Ferreira, Paul Perez (3), Marcello Sampson, Luke Watson. Conversions: George Whitehead (2), Wesley Dunlop. Penalties: Whitehead (2), Dunlop.
Leopards – Tries: Edgar Marutlulle, BG Uys, Allister Kettledas. Conversions: André Pretorius (3). Penalty: Pretorius. Drop goal: Pretorius.