George - The Leopards have retained their Currie Cup Premier Division status in dramatic fashion at Outeniqua Park on Friday when they scored two tries in the last five minutes to pip the SWD Eagles on points difference over two legs, despite the Eagles winning 32-28 (halftime 20-13) on the day.
The Leopards were thoroughly outplayed for most of the match but Walter Venter’s try with two minutes remaining brought the visitors to within seven points of the Eagles - which gave them the all-important bonus point that broke the Eagles’ hearts.
Going into the match, the Leopards enjoyed a 15-point lead on the scoreboard but crucially also led by five log points to one following their 37-22 first-leg win last weekend at Olen Park in Potchefstroom.
But the upcountry side’s advantage went up in smoke in the face of a determined Eagles outfit who, skippered by their evergreen centre Bevin Fortuin, built up what looked like a promotion-winning 32-16 lead with five minutes to play.
The home side looked to have done everything they needed to, tackling their hearts out and scoring five tries in an impressive display to not only overtake the Leopards on log points but also wipe out the negative points difference from the first match.
The forwards paved the way for victory, with lock Henry Grimes, hooker Hans Grobler, eighthman Jacques Engelbrecht, Shaun Raubenheimer and prop Jaco Terblanche epitomising the team’s direct approach with fine tries.
But when replacement Sarel Marais slipped through a tired-looking Eagles defence in the 75th minute, one just got the sense that the tide was turning at the eleventh hour -- and so it proved.
With the score at 32-21, the Eagles were still in pole position for Premier honours but needed to prevent the Leopards from scoring the try that would have got them to within seven.
But it was not to be, Venter barging his way over with the sands of time running out to draw his side level on log points and reduce the two-legged contest to a straight points difference affair.
Fortuin, who had to leave the field with 20 minutes remaining because of cramp, cut a heartbroken figure at the final whistle -- a feeling sure to be mirrored by his crestfallen comrades who must now contemplate another year in the First Division.
For the jubilant Leopards, there were no such concerns, and they will no doubt celebrate their Premier Division lifeline well into the night.
Eagles 32 -- Tries: Henry Grimes, Hans Grobler, Jacques Engelbrecht, Shaun Raubenheimer, Jaco Terblanche. Conversions: Ambrose Barends (2). Penalty: Barends.
Leopards 28 -- Tries: RW Kember, Sarel Marais, Walter Venter. Conversions: Clayton Durand, Marais. Penalties: Durand (3).
15 Jandré Blom, 14 Bobby Joubert, 13 Sinethemba Zweni, 12 Bevin Fortuin (captain), 11 Joe Breytenbach, 10 Ambrose Barends, 9 Dougie Hellmuth, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Shaun Raubenheimer, 6 Lyndon Hartnick, 5 Henry Grimes, 4 Hendrik Eksteen, 3 Wikus Harmse, 2 Johannes Grobler, 1 Jacobus Terblanche
Replacements: 16 Jandre de Beer, 17 Anton van der Westhuizen, 18 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 19 Danzel Manuel, 20 Eric Zana, 21 Deroy Rhoode, Marchell Potts
15. Danie Dames, 14. Dumisane Matyeshana, 13. Kempie Rautenbach, 12. Walter Venter, 11. Colin Lloyd, 10. Clayton Durand, 9. Michael Bondesio, 8. RW Kember, 7. Palm Koch (captain), 6. Victor Joubert, 5. Draad Linde, 4. Christo van Niekerk, 3. Eric Coetzee, 2. Gavin Williamson, 1. BG Uys
Replacements: 16. Stoffel Duvenhage, 17. Divan Kotze, 18. Brad Mockford, 19. Bennie Adams, 20. Theo van Wyk, 21. Joubert Engelbrecht, 22. SP Marais