Free State beat the Limpopo Blue Bulls 74-5 in the semi-final last week, and went into the decider at the Toyota Stadium as favourites to lift the trophy. Having won the 2022 final away from home, however, the Eagirls travelled to Bloemfontein with a reason to believe that victory was possible.
Free State made an encouraging start when centre Nomfundo Pampiri sprinted 60m to touch down. The Eagirls started to take control of the contest, though, and scored converted tries through winger Chante Jonck and scrumhalf Yolandi Sampson.
The hosts created several more scoring chances, but were undone by untimely handling errors. Their attacking endeavour was eventually rewarded when Pampiri rounded the defence to score her second try on the stroke of half-time. Trailing 10-14, they were still very much in the game.
The Eagirls added to their tally shortly after the break when flanker Jerononique Murphy raced away from the defence to score SWD’s third try, and boost the lead to nine points.
Free State fullback Sne Mdletshe crossed the line in the 62nd minute to give her side some hope of a comeback. The hosts failed to reduce the deficit, though, when they missed yet another conversion attempt, which saw SWD lead 19-15 with less than 20 minutes to go.
The momentum was with Free State at that stage, and the Eagirls sustained a significant blow when they conceded a yellow card in the 70th minute. Another infringement resulted in a second yellow, and they were forced to finish the game with 13 players.
The Eagirls held Free State up over the line on two occasions thereafter, but a subsequent break by Mdletshe culminated in a try under the posts. The ensuing conversion attempt fell short, but Free State held on to secure a dramatic win.
The result marks Free State’s third title success in this competition, having previously won the First Division in 2015 and 2016.
Free State Women 20 (10) – Tries Nomfundo Pampiri (2), Sne Mdletshe (2).
SWD Eagirls 19 (14) – Tries: Chante Jonck, Yolandi Sampson, Jerononique Murphy. Conversions: Antonecia Hannies (2).