Leopards pick up first win
The Platinum Leopards picked up their first win of the 2011 Absa Currie Cup season when they beat the Pumas 27-15 (halftime 24-12) at Profert Olën Park in Potchefstroom on Friday night.
The home side, coming off successive defeats to the Cheetahs (40-12), WP (47-9) and Lions (53-36), finally opened their innings thanks to a gritty performance and the assured boot of new flyhalf, Wesley Dunlop.
Fans of the Varsity Cup will know that Dunlop was instrumental in leading Tukkies to the final, but few will recall that it was the self-same Dunlop who kicked Durban's unfancied College Rovers club to the National Club Championship title against Maties just 11 months ago.
Dunlop's run-on debut here, and that of WP flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis at the same ground two weeks ago, will go a long way towards silencing those critics who believe the standard of club rugby in South Africa, especially at so-called 'open' clubs, isn't anything to write home about.
This time last year, while Dunlop was leading Rovers' charge to the national title, Catrakilis was almost single-handedly seeing to it that the unfancied False Bay club enjoyed a fairytale return to the Western Province top league by kicking his team to a win over, among others, a star-studded Maties side.
But back to the action in Potch, and Dunlop, who got his first Currie Cup start only after regular flyhalf and skipper Clayton Durand's injury, kicked three conversions and two penalties in a faultless night with the boot.
In contrast, Dunlop's more experienced opposite number, Coenie van Wyk, missed twice but the former Matie's kicking was not the difference between winning and losing on a clear and cold night that attracted some 1 200 spectators.
The home side opened their account as early as the seventh minute when right wing Danie Dames scooted through for Dunlop to convert.
But the visitors, smarting from their own hat-trick of losses, to the Lions (31-27), Sharks (23-22) and Griquas (40-33) -- the latter two matches at their adopted home ground of Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit -- hit back with two tries in the space of seven minutes to gain the initiative.
The first of those were scored by former Boland flyer Deon Scholtz, the right wing diving over in the 12th minute. This was followed by centre Dewald Pretorius' try in the 19th minute, converted by Van Wyk for a 12-7 lead.
But that proved to be the last time the Pumas found themselves with their noses in front, as a 17-point scoring blitz in just eight minutes swung the momentum back the Leopards' way.
Dunlop began the comeback with a penalty on 25 minutes, before livewire blindside flanker Luvoyiso Lusaseni crashed through on the half hour to make it 17-12 after the conversion.
Fullback George Tossel, who had earlier missed a fourth-minute penalty before handing the kicking duties to Dunlop, made amends when he dotted down in the 32nd minute to give his team a 12-point lead at the break.
But, quite unexpectedly, the glut of point-scoring dried up in the second half: the only time the scoreboard operator was troubled was when Van Wyk slotted a penalty with half an hour left, cancelled out by Dunlop's second on the hour.
The home fans wouldn't have complained, though: their team's mission to avoid the promotion-relegation play-offs received a welcome boost in the form of four invaluable log points.
Leopards 27 – Tries: Danie Dames, Luvo Lusaseni, George Tossel. Conversions: Wesley Dunlop (3). Penalties: Dunlop (2).
Pumas 15 – Tries: Deon Scholtz, Dewald Pretorius. Conversion: Coenie van Wyk. Penalty: Van Wyk.