Herne spoils Eagles' party
The SWD Eagles were left to rue five missed penalties, numerous spurned kicks at goal, and a ball spilled over the tryline as they slipped to a 27-25 (halftime 10-9) defeat to the out-of-sorts EP Kings in a Vodacom Cup South section match played at Outeniqua Park in George on Friday night.
Despite their missed opportunities, for which they could blame only themselves, the home side looked to have burgled the win when right wing Clint Wagman conjured up a superb try with four minutes left.
But Kings replacement hooker Frank Herne spoiled the Eagles' party when he raced through from 40 metres in the final minute to win a tight TMO decision after doubt about his grounding of the ball.
The game's nailbiting conclusion was a fitting end to a strange, see-sawing match that neither side seemed capable of taking by the scruff of the neck.
The first half was an unusual affair. The Eagles were starved of field position and possession in the opening quarter yet scored a wonderful try against the tide through centre Kempie Rautenbach.
The Kings, meanwhile, were all over their opponents but could not finish off, instead relying on fullback Justin van Staden to keep them in touch with three penalties. In the final analysis, it was Van Staden's boot that ultimately saved his team's bacon.
Van Staden's first pot put the Kings ahead in the eighth minute but Rautenbach, the former Leopards three-quarter, raced through three minutes later after a sweeping passage of play.
Fullback Raynor Becker added the extra two, then kicked a 16th-minute penalty to make it 10-3, but his faulty radar would come back to haunt the Eagles.
The Kings continued to push, scrumhalf Danie Faasen and winger Andile Witbooi dumped out to touch at the corner flag.
But Van Staden's two penalties before the break, and another in the 43rd minute gave the visitors the lead.
Try-machine Norman Nelson, a former Eagles hero, scored a minute later for Van Staden to convert and suggest, at 19-10, that the Kings would run away with things.
But Becker pulled back three points with a penalty before quick thinking by scrumhalf Mzo Dyantyi from a penalty five metres out saw him dart over from the cheeky tap kick.
But the unerring boot of Van Staden kept the Kings at arm's length, while, in contrast, Becker's four missed kicks saw skipper Lyndon Hartnick toss the ball to flyhalf Cecil Dumond -- who then promptly hooked his first attempt.
You can't leave 15 points on the table in such a game, and when impressive winger Wagman dropped the ball over the line with nine minutes left, you sensed it wasn't going to be a home-town victory.
It was the story of the Eagles' night, Wagman's superb late try notwithstanding.
The Kings' victory, their fourth in five matches, moves the men from Port Elizabeth to the top of the South section, ahead of Western Province and defending champions the Pampas XV, both of whom are in action on Saturday.
The Eagles meanwhile slipped to their fifth defeat on the trot, and remain second-from-bottom, with only the Border Bulldogs below them.
On the evidence of this match, they are certainly a better team than that.
SWD Eagles 25 – Tries: Kempie Rautenbach, Mzo Dyantyi, Clint Wagman. Conversions: Raynor Becker (2). Penalties: Becker (2).
EP Kings 27 – Tries: Norman Nelson, Frank Herne. Conversion: Justin van Staden. Penalties: Van Staden (5).