Kings win nailbiter
Port Elizabeth - The Eastern Province Kings were made to sweat before running out 23-17 winners over the Boland Cavaliers in an Absa Currie Cup First Division match played at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Friday night.
In front of a festive crowd of nearly 10 000 -- and with rugby fever clearly gripping the Friendly City just a week before the Springboks and All Blacks clash at the same stadium -- the home side recovered from an early scoring setback to grab the four points on offer.
It wasn't all good news for the Kings, though, as they looked to have lost barnstorming Kiwi tighthead prop Clint Newland to a serious injury, the extent of which will probably only be known in the coming days.
Newland's second-half injury, which looked to be either to the arm or shoulder, judging by the way he walked off the field, had a profound effect on the Kings.
Up to that point, they had dominated the Cavaliers at scrum time but the introduction of replacement Ronnie Uys, a wily veteran but certainly no tighthead specialist, had the effect of levelling the playing field.
And with parity up front, the Cavaliers were freed up to do what they do best, which is run the ball from all corners of the field.
This approach, which led to the interesting scenario of the Cavaliers tapping and running every penalty they were awarded, almost paid full dividends.
In the end, though, the Kings were just that bit better on the night, and no one was more effective than rampaging eighthman and man of the match, Jacques Engelbrecht.
Engelbrecht was everywhere, both on attack and in defence, with skipper Luke Watson matching him every step of the way from the side of the scrum.
The Cavaliers opened the scoring in the second minute when wing Cornal Hendricks profited from a backline move that fashioned a straightforward overlap.
The Kings hit back when, from a lineout on the Cavaliers' 22, the forward began a rolling maul that only ended over the tryline, with that man Watson left clutching the ball.
Flyhalf Louis Strydom kicked the conversion and then two penalties to give the home side a 13-5 lead.
Boland flyhalf Elgar Watts narrowed the deficit with a penalty in the 28th minute but it was the quick thinking of EP scrumhalf Falie Oelschig, who tap-kicked a penalty near the halfway line, that gave the Kings the vital advantage.
With the forward combining well following Oelschig's break, it was Newland who was driven over the line for Strydom to convert and make it 20-8.
Watts kicked a second penalty on the stroke of halftime, but after the break the visitors, for all their attacking verve, just could not break through the stubborn Kings defence, despite their lack of upfront dominance following Newland's departure.
Both teams had their chances in what quickly became a scrappy second half, with balls being dropped over the tryline at both ends of the ground.
EP's mistakes gave Watts a third pot at goal on the hour to make it 20-14, but Strydom was equal to the task when he slotted a 67th-minute drop goal to open up the nine-point gap once more.
Watts's fourth penalty set up an exciting climax, but by this time the war of attrition had taken its toll, leaving the Kings to raise their arms in relief when the final whistle went.
EP Kings 23 – Tries: Luke Watson, Clint Newland. Conversions: Louis Strydom (2). Penalties: Strydom (2). Drop goal: Strydom.
Boland Cavaliers 17 – Try: Cornal Hendricks. Penalties: Elgar Watts (4).