THE EP Kings will travel to Nelspruit to play the Pumas in the semifinals of the Vodacom Cup on Saturday after they powered their way to a dramatic last-minute 34-31 win over the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday.
It was a win that wiped away some of the pain being suffered by Kings supporters after their Super Rugby team slumped to a record 72-10 defeat against the Waratahs.
“This was the one shining light for our franchise this weekend,” Kings director of rugby Alan Solomons said.
“It is a wonderful effort and performance and good for the union and franchise. That we beat the Cheetahs and Bulls away and the Cheetahs in the Vodacom Cup shows that we are slowly building that strength in depth through our academy.
“But at the moment, at the top level in Super Rugby, we have to get that experience and the only way we can get it is to play,” Solomons said.
In the other semifinal on Saturday, Western Province travel to Ellis Park in Johannesburg to face the Golden Lions.
It was EP Kings loosehead prop Lizo Gqoboka who secured victory for his team with the winning try in injury time of their quarterfinal at Loftus Versfeld.
Gqoboka’s try was the Kings’ third in the last eight minutes of the match, which set up an unlikely victory.
With less than 10 minutes left on the clock, the home team were leading 31-13 and seemingly cruising towards the semifinal.
But the EP Kings had other plans as they crossed for late tries by Mpho Mbiyozo, Dalton Davis and Gqoboka, all which were converted by Wesley Dunlop, to cause the biggest shock of the weekend.
Golden Lions flyhalf Marnitz Boshoff kicked 27 points as his team beat the Sharks XV, winners of the South Section, 42-25 at Kings Park in Durban on Friday afternoon.
The KwaZulu-Natalians were strengthened by two Springbok loose forwards in Willem Alberts and Ryan Kankowski, but in the end it did not matter as the team from Johannesburg did the damage by scoring three tries to one.
The match started with Boshoff and his Sharks XV counterpart Fred Zeilinga trading penalty goals. The visitors led 18-9 shortly before the break, but their lead was cut to 18-16 when Sizo Maseko scored the first try of the match for the Durbanites.
But the Golden Lions found their groove in the second half as Anthony Volmink, Chrysander Botha and Deon van Rensburg all crossed for tries, while Boshoff kept on slotting his kicks at goal.
In Nelspruit, Rosko Specman scored a hat-trick of tries as the Pumas beat the Pampas XV, Vodacom Cup champions in 2011, 44-37 in a try-fest at the Mbombela Stadium on Friday evening.
Specman’s third try, five minutes from the end of the match, gave the team from Mpumalanga some breathing space at 44-30.
The match was pretty evenly matched as both sides scored five tries each, but the big difference was Carl Bezuidenhout, who kicked 19 points for a total tally of 24 as the Pampas kicker, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, missed 13 points through fluffed kicks at goal.
In Cape Town on Saturday, Cheslin Kolbe, who has played for the Springbok sevens team and was recently picked at fullback for the SA under-20s, scored both Western Provinces tries as they had to dig deep to beat Griquas 21-10 at Newlands.
The point-scorers in the EP-Blue Bulls match were:
Blue Bulls 31: Tries: Sampie Mastriet, Dries Swanepoel, Wiaan Liebenberg, Basil Short. Conversions: Handre Pollard (4). Penalty goal: Pollard.
EP Kings 34: Tries: Stefan Willemse, Mpho Mbiyozo, Dalton Davis, Lizo Gqoboka. Conversions: Scott van Breda, Wesley Dunlop (3). Penalty goals: Van Breda (2).