by Jason Humphries – Supersport.com website
Port Elizabeth – The EP Kings were crowned Absa Currie Cup First Division champions after narrowly beating the Ford Pumas 26-25 (halftime 10-13) in the final at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
The Kings turned in a strong second-half performance to finally beat the Pumas this season after the two teams had played to two draws during the league phase of the competition.
The Pumas outscored their opponents four tries to two but were unable to take advantage of a strong first-half performance as Kings flyhalf George Whitehead kicked 11 points courtesy of a conversion and three penalties.
The hosts were made to endure a nervy last few minutes when Pumas fullback Coenie van Wyk scored a converted try with a minute left to play but the Kings managed to hold on for the win.
The Pumas dominated the first half and could have had a substantial first-half lead if the normally reliable flyhalf JC Roos had not missed two penalties and two conversions, misses that would prove crucial in the gameâ€™s final outcome.
The visitors dominated territory and possession in the first half and the Kings, who had precious little ball to play with, were forced into relying on desperate defence to keep themselves in the game.
Roos and Whitehead swopped early penalties before the visitors began the take control of the match.
The Pumas grabbed their first try in the 16th minute when they took the ball through eight phases before eighthman RW Kember muscled his way over from six metres out.
The visitors nabbed their second try seven minutes later when Van Wyk rounded off a sweeping backline move to stretch out and score in the right-hand corner.
Roos failed with the difficult conversion attempt but the Pumas were full value for their 13-3 lead.
But the Kings, despite being completely outplayed in the half, rescued something from the first 40 minutes with a try shortly before the break.
Lock Darron Nell was on hand to barge his way over from close range after an incisive attack from the hosts had carried the ball deep into the Pumasâ€™ half.
Whitehead popped over the conversion as the Kings went to halftime trailing by just three points despite the stats being completely in the Pumasâ€™ favour.
The Pumas had 66 percent possession and 68 percent territory in the first half and had to make just 23 tackles to the 48 made by the Kings.
The Kings made a better start to the second half and they took the lead for the first time, in the 49th minute, thanks to two Whitehead penalties.
The match then became a midfield arm-wrestle with neither team prepared to make a mistake, but the Kings finally took a stranglehold on proceedings in the 67th minute when left wing Marcello Sampson showed pace and strength to force his way over in the corner for a converted try.
The Pumas ensured a tense finish when flank Jaco Bouwer broke from a maul five metres from the Kingsâ€™ tryline to gallop over for an unconverted try to make the score 23-18 with seven minutes left in the match.
But EP replacement flyhalf Wesley Dunlop made sure of the victory with a penalty in the 75th minute despite Van Wykâ€™s late score.
EP Kings â€“ Tries: Darron Nell, Marcello Sampson; Conversions: George Whitehead, Wesley Dunlop; Penalties: Whitehead (3), Dunlop.
Ford Pumas â€“ Tries: RW Kember, Coenie van Wyk (2), Jaco Bouwer; Conversion: Naas Olivier; Penalty: JC Roos.