EP Country Districts held off a resurgent Leopards side to win their opening Craven Week match 35-10 in Polokwane on Tuesday.
After dominating the opening half and building up a 21-5 lead at the break, EP were kept on the back foot in the second half as the Leopards launched an impressive fight back, but it was not enough and EP held on for victory with two late tries wrapping things up.
The Eastern Cape side made a bright start to the game, with their forwards taking the ball to the Leopards who found themselves defending early on.
Both teams made a few basic errors as the game got off to a tense start, and it was EP Country Districts who struck first when flyhalf Jason Vers slotted a long-range penalty kick.
They kept the pressure on, and stormed into the Leopards' 22 thanks to a bullocking run from No.8 Luigy van Jaarsveld, but the Leopards' defence held up well to keep them out.
However, they could not resist the constant waves of attacks, and eventually EP left wing Gordon-Wayne Plaatjies was able to dive over for the opening try.
The EP side dominated possession and territory in the opening 20 minutes, and were full value for their 13-0 lead once Vers kicked a second penalty, with both forwards and backs making good ground with the ball in hand.
The Leopards got into the opposition 22 for the first time after 25 minutes, refusing the kick at goal twice as they searched for a try, and they were eventually rewarded when hooker Eric Smith crashed over to get them on the scoreboard.
Vers added another penalty just before he sparked a breathtaking try from their own half. A delayed pass saw Plaatjies hit some space and he got the ball away to inside centre Peet Schoeman who produced a huge hand-off before finding his skipper Sintu Manjezi who got over for the try.
That saw EP take a well-deserved 21-5 lead into the half-time break, after an opening 35 minutes in which they had made all of the running.
The Leopards made an encouraging start to the second half as they managed to get their hands on the ball and forced EP to make some tackles.
Despite having to absorb far more pressure after half-time, EP managed to hold out thanks to some desperate defending, with the Leopards failing to make the most of their opportunities.
However, the constant attacks eventually proved too much for EP to handle and Leopards inside centre Paul Hurn bashed his way over in the right-hand corner for the try which narrowed the gap to 21-10.
The Leopards kept their foot on the gas, and Smith almost got in for his second try after some slick handling, but he lost it forward with the tryline at his mercy.
EP lock Johannes Viljoen was shown a yellow card, handing the Leopards a one-man advantage for the final ten minutes, but EP would be next to score with scrumhalf Qhama Masiza getting over for the try before centre Robert Ball finished things off with a fourth try just before the final whistle.
Man of the match: EP Country Districts flyhalf Jason Vers controlled the game well, providing space for those outside him and kicking well both off the tee and out of hand.
For EP Country Districts:
Tries: Plaatjies, Manjezi, Masiza, Ball
Cons: Vers 3
Pens: Vers 3
For the Leopards:
Tries: Smith, Hurn
Yellow card: Johannes Viljoen (60 mins)
Eastern Province Country Districts: 15 Siphosethu Pinini, 14 Apiwe Dinga, 13 Robert Ball, 12 Peet Schoeman, 11 Gordon-Wayne Plaatjes, 10 Jason Vers, 9 Qhama Masiza, 8 Luigy van Jaarsveld, 7 Sintu Manjezi, 6 Stuart Stopforth, 5 Christoffel Viljoen, 4 Tyler Paul, 3 James Beyl, 2 Jacobus Blom, 1 David Murray.
Replacements: 16 Thomas Filmer, 17 Nicolaas Oosthuizen, 18 Ockert du Preez, 19 Cornelius van Heerden, 20 Jason Baggott, 21 Xantilomzi Sandi, 22 Tsepho Mabitsela.
Leopards: 15 Jano Smith, 14 Paseka Maluleke, 13 Markus Coetzer, 12 Paul Hurn, 11 Mick Carroll, 10 Christiaan Botha, 9 Garann Kriek, 8 Tiaan Bezuidenhout, 7 Gideon van der Merwe, 6 Isiah Bila, 5 Gopolang Molefe, 4 Frederick Pretorius, 3 Ferdinand Pieterse, 2 Enrico Smith, 1 Onkutlwile Rankane.
Replacements: 16 Onthatile Ramorola, 17 Beyers van Sittert, 18 Thabo Chirwa, 19 Jaco Swanepoel, 21 Koorapetse Mmutle, 22 Thabang Tsheko.