Franklin won his fourth First Division Final
The Eastern Province Kings ended unbeaten season when they edged the Pumas 26-25 in a thrilling First Division Final in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.
Despite being outscored by four tries to two by the free-running Pumas, the Kings stage an second-half comeback and earned the win with some resolute defence.
It saw the Kings finally beat the Pumas, after the two sides had twice played to a draw in the regular season. And it also saw Kings hooker Hannes Franklin win his fourth First Division Final - two of the previous three having been with the Pumas.
The newly promoted Super Rugby franchise will now go on to play for a spot in the Currie Cup competition in the next fortnight, as they contest a two-match promotion-relegation series.
The Pumas completely dominated the first half, having 80 percent of the possession, and only desperate defence prevented the Pumas from taking a bigger lead than their 13-10 advantage.
The Kings didn't help their own cause with a string of penalties at the breakdown, but a late first-half try by captain Darron Nell ensured the home team stayed in touch of their more energetic opponents..
For the Pumas their biggest problem was the poor goal-kicking of flyhalf JC Roos, who managed just one out of his five shots at goal. In stark contrast, Kings No.10 George Whitehead missed just one.
After Roos and Whitehead exchanged penalties in the first five minutes, the Pumas raced into a 10-point lead through tries by RW Kember and Coenie van Wyk - with some sublime angled running and brute force.
Whitehead gave the Kings some early second-half momentum, when he landed two penalties inside the first 10 minutes after the break - as the home side took the lead with just half-an-hour left on the clock.
The crucial; score came with just 13 minutes left on the clock, as the Kings took the ball through multiple phases before Marcello Sampson went over in the left corner. Replacement Wesley Dunlop added the extras and at 23-13 it left the Pumas with a mountain to climb.
And they responded in superb fashion, setting up a couple of powerful mauls, with Jaco Bouwer going over the line. The call went to the TMO, who ruled that the try was good - despite the maul having splintered and in the process confusing the Kings defenders. The Pumas' kicking woes continued, as replacement Naas Olivier was also wide with his conversion attempt and the home team held a five-point (23-18) lead.
Then came another crucial call, the referee awarding a penalty to the Kings right in front of the posts almost from the restart and Wesley Dunlop made it an eight-point (26-18) game.
Again the Pumas bounced back with a try of their own, fullback Coenie van Wyk going over for his second after numerous raids and advantages played. The conversion by Olivier was good - 25-26 and just a minute left on the clock.
The Pumas made a desperate bid to launch an attack from inside their 22, but the Kings held on for the win.
For the Eastern Province Kings:
Tries: Nell, Sampson,
Cons: Whitehead, Dunlop
Pens: Whitehead 3, Dunlop 2
For the Pumas:
Tries: Kember, Van Wyk 2, Bouwer
Eastern Province Kings: 15 SP Marais, 14 Paul Perez, 13 Wayne Stevens, 12 Tiger Mangweni, 11 Marcello Sampson, 10 George Whitehead, 9 Falie Oelschig, 8 Cornell du Preez, 7 Devin Oosthuizen, 6 Wimpie van der Walt, 5 David Bullbring, 4 Darron Nell (captain), 3 Clint Newland, 2 Hannes Franklin, 1 Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: 16 Frank Herne, 17 André Schlechter, 18 Wayne van Heerden, 19 Mpho Mbiyozo, 20 Scott Mathie, 21 Wesley Dunlop, 22 Siyanda Grey.
Pumas: 15 Coenie van Wyk, 14 MJ Mentz, 13 Jerome Pretorius, 12 JW Jonker (captain), 11 Carl Bezuidenhout, 10 JC Roos, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 RW Kember, 7 Uzair Cassiem, 6 Jaco Bouwer, 5 Willem Serfontein, 4 Rudi Matthee, 3 Ashley Buys, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Corné Fourie.
Replacements: 16 Drew van Coller, 17 De-Jay Terblanche, 18 Nqubeko Zulu, 19 Renaldo Bothma, 20 Francois de Klerk, 21 Naas Olivier, 22 Ashwin Scott.
Referee: Jason Jaftha
Assistants: Lesego Legoete, Daniel Fortuin
TMO: Johann Meuwesen