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Rugby | Currie Cup First Division

Gene Willemse © Gallo Images

Leopards edge Bulldogs in thriller



The high-flying Leopards had to fight tooth and nail to snatch an exciting 36-32 victory over the Border Bulldogs in their Currie Cup First Division clash at the BCM Stadium in East London on Saturday evening.

The two teams found themselves on opposite ends of the log going into the match, with the Leopards second and the Bulldogs second from bottom.

However the Leopards were then given an almighty scare, but just managed to come away with a bonus point win that sees them keep up the pressure on the top-of-the-log Down Touch Griffons.

It was a very tight and competitive first half of the game with the home side probably just edging the play, but it was the visitors that went into the break with the lead.

The Bulldogs got off to a flyer as from the kick-off the Leopards cleared the ball to just short of the half way.

The Bulldogs then took a quick lineout and swung the ball down to the right wing, where outside centre Lundi Ralarala received the ball and cracked on the afterburners, beating the last tackler to go over in the right-hand corner for an unconverted score.

Good play from the home side then saw them continued to press, with them missing a penalty and coming close to scoring before another penalty in the Leopards 22m allowed scrumhalf Bangihlombe Kobese to push them further ahead at 8-0 after 19 minutes.

The Leopards were however slowly finding their feet in the game and a quick counter attack down the left-hand touchline in the 26th minute saw flyhalf Gene Willemse get the ball and cut inside, beating to defenders to go over under the poles, with him then getting up and converting his own try to bring the score within one point.

On the halftime hooter the Leopards kicked a penalty to touch and the forwards then successfully mauled the ball over, with hooker Dane van der Westhuizen dotting down in the left-hand corner as the visitors took a slender 12-8 lead into the break.

The second half then sparked to life, with both sides throwing caution to the wind with some exciting play.

The Leopards started the brightest, with Willemse crashing over under the poles for a converted score and then fullback Tapiwa Mafura sliced through a gap to score towards the left-hand touchline as the visitors moved 24-8 up after 50 minutes.

Five minutes later the Bulldogs fought back as replacement lock Athenkosi Kethani showed great strength to power through a couple of tackles in the Leopards 22m to go over under the poles for a converted try.

In the 59th minute Border prop Lwando Mabenge was sent to the bin after continuous breakdown infringements forced ref Rasta Rasivhenge to produce a yellow card.

This started a frantic 10-minute spell that saw Kobese slot his second penalty to bring the hosts within a converted try, Leopards flank Marno Redelinghuys then forced his way over from close range after a patient build up for a converted score, Kethani then smashed his way over under the posts again, and Leopards replacement back Ryno Wepener then scored in the left-hand corner to make it 36-25 with 11 minutes to play.

The Bulldogs did most of the play in the final 10 minutes, desperately looking for the try to bring them back into the match, but the Leopards held firm until finally after the fulltime hooter had gone, replacement hooker Mihlali Mpafi scored from close range, with Kobese's conversion being the final points of the match.

The Leopards will definitely breathe a sigh of relief after that game and will now go into their top-of-the-table clash with the Griffons next weekend with the chance of overtaking them on the log if they win.

SCORERS

Border Bulldogs - Tries: Lundi Ralarala, Athenkosi Kethani (2), Mihlali Mpafi Conversion: Bangihlombe Kobese (3) Penalty: Bangihlombe Kobese (2)

Leopards - Tries: Gene Willemse (2), Dane van der Westhuizen, Tapiwa Mafura, Marno Redelinghuys, Ryno Wepener Conversions: Gene Willemse (3)



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