THOUGH they will be satisfied with their strong finish to the competition, the EP Kings will be desperately disappointed that they failed to make the Vodacom Cup quarterfinals.
Wins over Boland (28-21) and the Sharks (27-11) in their final two matches did much to lift the gloom hanging over Eastern Province rugby.
The back-to-back wins came after a disjointed campaign that left the Kings in fifth spot on the South Section log and out of the playoffs.
Up until the final games, supporters had been left largely frustrated by EP’s policy of keeping their top players in “mothballs” in preparation for the Currie Cup Premier Division kickoff in August.
In addition to not being able to field the best players, Kings Vodacom Cup head coach Mzwandile Stick also had to get the best out of club players who were given a taste of professional rugby.
While the decision was a boost for the lower tier of the game, it was an experiment that did not work out and EP president Cheeky Watson admitted as much.
Watson has said the policy of using club players would be re-examined, but stressed that unions were measured by their success in the Currie Cup and Super Rugby and not by what they achieved in the Vodacom Cup. After the final round of league matches, the Pumas, Sharks 15, Griquas and Free State 15 will host the four Vodacom Cup quarterfinals after the pool phase of the competition came to an exciting conclusion.
While the North Section went pretty much as expected and the Pumas managed to become the only team to go through their pool matches unbeaten, the last round in the South Section saw the log getting a overhaul following upsets in Durban and George on Friday evening.
The EP Kings, already out of the reckoning before the final round started, saved their best performance for last. They easily beat the table-topping Sharks by 27-11.
Later on Friday the SWD Eagles upstaged the more-fancied Western Province by 23-14 at Outeniqua Park.
These results, coupled with a massive 77-10 win for the Free State 15 over the Tusker Simba 15 at the Free State Stadium – in which Zingisa April scored four tries for the home team – saw the Bloem boys leap-frog WP and SWD to claim home ground advantage in the quarterfinals.
In the final match of the pool phase, the Boland Cavaliers ended their season with a comprehensive 41-17 victory over the Border Bulldogs in Piketberg.
The Vodacom Cup quarterfinals. Pumas (North 1) v Western Province (South 4) – Nelspruit
Sharks (South 1) v Golden Lions (North 4) – Durban.
Griquas (North 2) v SWD Eagles (South 3) – Kimberley.
Free State 15 (South 2) v Blue Bulls (North 3) – Bloemfontein. – George Byron