Port Elizabeth - Griquas started the defence of their crown with a 27-19 victory (half-time 10-12) over the EP Kings in their Vodacom Cup South Section rugby clash at NMB Stadium on Saturday.
The teams experienced contrasting fortunes in the two halves with EP dominating the first to claim their narrow lead at the break while Griquas tightened the screws in the second to secure a well-deserved win in their opening fixture of this year's campaign.
The Kings were forced to weather an early storm as a determined Griquas side ran at their defensive lines at pace. The home side were able to hold firm but eventually a gap opened to see Griquas number eight Carel Greeff in the for the opening try in the 15th minute. The conversion was added by fullback Gouws Prinsloo.
The Kings, however, were quick to hit back and three minutes later David Bulbring won a lineout to see flank Thembelani Bholi burst through and execute a fine 40 metre run to score midway out. The two points were added by flyhalf Gary van Aswegen.
After absorbing that early pressure, EP started to dominate the scrums and pushed the visitors off the ball numerous times. Following one of those occasions, Kings scrumhalf Kevin Luiters kicked through a loose ball and then collected to score the home team's second try after 25 minutes.
Griquas replaced loosehead prop Wiseman Kamanga with Steph Roberts and that helped to stabilise their scrum to a certain extent.
The first half scoring was completed by Gouws who landed a 40th minute penalty before slotting another penalty after the break.
Griquas must have had a stern talking to at the break as the defending champions started the second half with even more vigour than the first.
They were rewarded with tries by replacements Steph Roberts and Abrie Griesel in the space of the three minutes. Prinsloo slotted both conversions to help his team into a 27-12 lead with 15 minutes remaining.
The Kings fought back furiously towards the end of the game and a sustained period of pressure which saw yellow cards handed to Griquas flanks RJ Liebenberg and Wendel Wehr and eventually resulted in replacement scrumhalf Jaco Grobler forcing his way over the tryline.
Scott van Breda kicked the conversion to make the final score 27-19.
Tries: Thembalani Bholi, Kevin Luiters, Jaco Grobler
Conversions: Gary van Aswegen, Scott van Breda
Tries: Carel Greeff, Steph Roberts, Abrie Griesel
Conversions: Gouws Prinsloo (3)
Penalties: Gouws Prinsloo (2)