Eastern Province and Western Province will fight it out for the top position when they meet in the final round of pool matches in the Absa U19 Provincial rugby Championship in Cape Town this Friday.
Although there is more pressure on the home side, the EP Kings will go into the match smarting from their first defeat of the season at the hands of the Blue Bulls last weekend and will be determined to finish the league phase on a strong note.
Thanks to their excellent season, EP are in the happy position that they will finish in the top two irrespective of the result, but that will not mean coach Mzwandile Stick and his charges will be happy with any outcome.
They will be focused fully on winning their final match to ensure top position and what could, theoretically, be an easier playoff against the fourth-ranked side in next weekend’s playoffs.
It will not be easy for the Kings, though. In extremely wet conditions, they sneaked home against Western Province 13-10 in PE in the first round, only one of two matches the Western Cape side have lost this season.
WP also lost to the Bulls and these three teams have clearly emerged as the top sides in the U19 competition. Only four points separate the sides – EP 46, Bulls 44 (programme completed), WP 42 – with Free State trailing in fourth place on 23 points.
With homeground advantage against them, EP can expect to face a fired-up WP side, who know that nothing less than a win will be enough for them to overtake the Bulls. And it could also see them leap-frogging the Kings.
After a tough season, the EP U21s will end off with one of the hardest games in the competition when they come up against the logleading WP outfit.
After a surprise opening loss to the Sharks, WP have gone through the season unbeaten. Their only marginal setback was a 32-32 draw with the Sharks in the return game.
Even though WP are assured of finishing first on the log, EP Kings can expect no favours from their opponents.
With nothing to lose, though, Kings coach Ryan Felix will be calling for a determined effort to try to end the season on a high note.
The EP Kings teams are:
EP U19 (15-1): Keanu Vers, Mabhutana Peter, Yamkela Nyalambisa, Jeremy Ward, Athi Mayinje, Michael Brink, James Hall, Junior Pokomela, Hayden Tharratt, SF Nieuwoudt, Lusanda Badiyana, Wihan Coetzer, Nicolaas Oosthuizen, Thango Balekile, Greg Jackson.
Replacements (16-23): Masikane Mazwi, Xandre Vos, Matthew Howes, Michael de Marco, Xolisa Matshoba, Sibusiso Ngcokovane, Garrick Mattheus, Michael Botha.
EP U21 (15-1): Malcolm Jaer, Khaya Malotana, Somila Jho, Leighton van Wyk, Ivan-John du Preez, Warren Swarts, Franswa Ueckermann, Kevin Kaba (capt), Brandon Brown, CJ Velleman, Tyler Paul, Wynand Grassman, Stephan Ebersohn, JP Jamieson, David Murray.
Replacements (16-22): Arno Lotter, James Beyl, Justin Hollis, Jason Reinecke, Luvo Claasen, Simon Bolze, Lindelwe Zungu.
The latest logs, matches in brackets, are:
U19: EP 46 (11), Blue Bulls 44 (12), WP 42 (11), Free State 23 (11), Golden Lions 22 (11), Leopards 16 (11), Sharks 11 (11).
U21: WP 47 (11), Free State 40 (11), Sharks 36 (11), Blue Bulls 34 (12), Golden Lions 30 (11), Leopards 13 (11), EP Kings 4 (11).