THE stakes could not be higher for the EP Kings when they clash with their arch-rivals the Pumas in a crunch Absa Currie Cup First Division rugby match at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium tonight (kick-off 7.10pm).
Victory will ensure the Kings end top of the First Division table and guarantee them a money-spinning Currie Cup Premier Division playoff match at the end of the season.
A highly physical contest is expected as the two leading teams in the second tier of South African rugby duel for supremacy and silverware.
"This is a high-stakes game because we have reached the business end of the season," EP skipper Luke Watson said.
"We performed well in beating the Griffins 60-19 last week, but there is still a lot of room for improvement.
"The Kings have got a lot of confidence in their structure and systems and we are responding very quickly and clearly to various situations," Watson said.
Though a highly physical contest is expected, EP's assistant coach (backline) David Maidza warned that the Pumas back division should not be underestimated,
"They have a couple of players in their backline who are diligent and good ball players.
"It is not just about the Pumas forward pack and their domination up front.
"The Pumas will spread it wide and we must concentrate on our job and trust our systems," Maidza said.
The Kings are unbeaten after 12 matches in the First Division and will start tonight's match with a healthy eight-point lead over the second- placed Pumas with one round of league matches left to play.
A win over the Pumas will render the Kings' final league outing against the Leopards as virtually meaningless because EP will still be assured of top spot even if they lose that game.
In their first-round encounter, the teams fought out a thrilling 30-30 draw at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit, after EP opened a healthy early 27-9 lead over the Pumas.
EP are still regretting that slip and the Kings' director of rugby Alan Solomons is expecting a massive assault on his team's unbeaten record tonight.
"We should have won that drawn game and closed it out. However, we did not after they got a try right at the death. We felt we let ourselves down in that game.
"This will be a massively physical clash against the Pumas," Solomons said.
Compared to the side that thrashed the Griffons last week the only change to the EP line-up sees nippy scrumhalf Scott Mathie get a start in the place of Falie Oelschig, who moves to the bench.
The other fixtures are: Tonight: Border Bulldogs v Leopards (East London, 7pm).
Tomorrow: Falcons v Boland Cavaliers (Kempton Park, 3pm), Griffons v SWD Eagles (Welkom, 3pm).