A fine all-round showing by the Eastern Province Kings saw them to an overwhelming 48-17 (halftime 27-3) victory over the Valke in their Absa Currie Cup First Division semifinal at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Friday.
The Kings will now be playing the Boland Cavaliers in the First Division final in Wellington next weekend.
For Eastern Province, their hero was eighthman Jacques Engelbrecht, who showed tremendous pace, power and vision, scoring one try himself and setting up two others.
The Kings, overwhelming favourites against a team that just snuck into the semifinals via a last-ditch try, began tentatively with several handling errors. Coach Alan Solomons will also be concerned by their performance in the scrums, where they - loosehead prop Ronnie Uys in particular - were penalised many times.
But against a Valke team that slipped far too many tackles, the Kings had far too much pace, power and skill for the visitors.
After 12 minutes, a slick counter-attack by the Kings saw Engelbrecht make a marvellous break and hooker Bobby Dyer then cut back inside to score the opening try, converted by Louis Strydom.
In the 21st minute, an Eastern Province attempt to counter-ruck instead produced a penalty for coming into the breakdown on the side, which flyhalf Juan Kotze kicked to put the Valke on the board (7-3).
Strydom kicked a 24th-minute penalty before trying to farm the ball out to wing Andile Witbooi via a cross-kick, but the wicked bounce eluded his flyer. Engelbrecht was storming up in pursuit of the ball, however, and he plucked it out of the hands of Valke wing Willie Odendaal and then powered over for the try, converted by Strydom (17-3).
Kings scrumhalf Noel Oelschig was very much the general of their impressive backline and, after the Valke were pinged for an early shove at a scrum, the former Free State and Stade Francais player quickly summed up the situation, took a quick tap, chose the blindside and fired out a pass to wing Norman Nelson. The 2010 First Division Player of the Year showed his nose for the tryline as he went streaking down the touchline and put in a deft chip which he regathered to score.
Strydom converted to stretch the lead to 24-3 and, two minutes before halftime, Oelschig was once again testing the Valke defensive lines with a quick tap and run, earning a penalty which the on-target Strydom slotted (27-3).
The Kings scored again seven minutes into the second half thanks to the barnstorming play of Engelbrecht once again. The former Western Province flank turned a retreating scrum into a positive, making a tremendous break, plus being on fellow loose forward Devin Oosthuizen's back as he drove over for the try (34-3).
Six minutes later, Witbooi came off his wing to join the line to great effect, knifing through the Valke defence. Quick ball from the ruck was then sent wide, allowing an easy run-in for fullback SP Marais. Strydom was once again on-target with the conversion (41-3).
Referee Pro Legoete's whistle then dominated proceedings for the next nine minutes as he dished out three yellow cards - to Valke wing Heinrich Rademeyer (high tackle, harsh) and replacement flank Warren Perkins (cynical killing of the ball, well-deserved), and Kings centre Joe Breytenbach for diving into a ruck.
Lady Luck also deserted the Kings when she (through the TMO) ruled that Marais' hand under the ball did not prevent replacement centre Coert Cronje from scoring after he had taken a short pass off a ruck, stepped inside and powered over the line.
Kotze converted (10-41) but replacement back George Whitehead - why did he start on the bench? - broke from a ruck and showed great vision to pass inside for centre Jaco Bekker to show his strength and muscle his way over the line to score.
Whitehead converted the try (48-10), but the final say would be the Valke's as they rumbled up-field and created enough space for replacement wing Kyle Hendricks to showcase his fine footwork and twinkle-toe his way over for a try out wide, converted by Kotze.
The EP Kings lost 49-15 to Boland two weeks ago in Wellington and they will want to quickly put that wayward showing out of their minds ahead of the final next weekend.
EP Kings - Tries: Bobby Dyer, Jacques Engelbrecht, Norman Nelson, Devin Oosthuizen, SP Marais, Jaco Bekker. Conversions: Louis Strydom (5), George Whitehead. Penalties: Strydom (2).
Valke - Tries: Coert Cronje, Kyle Hendricks. Conversions: Juan Kotze (2). Penalty: Kotze.