The Leopards, having fought their way back to 34-34 after 57 minutes, were left stunned as the Eagles scored three more tries, two of them by incisive scrumhalf Johan Herbst to complete his hat-trick, and resuscitated their hopes of making the semifinals.
The Eagles started in magnificent fashion as right wing Clinton Wagman and Herbst scored tries in the first four minutes and fullback Elric van Vuuren converted both and added a penalty to give the home side an early 17-0 lead.
But the Leopards also showed some attacking verve and their fullback, Hoffman Maritz, crossed for a try and flyhalf Andre Pretorius added the conversion and a 19th-minute penalty and suddenly the visitors only trailed 10-17.
Van Vuuren chipped over a penalty in the 27th minute (20-10) and the Eagles then looked after the ball well for outside centre Nicolaas Hanekom to score, the fullback again adding the conversion.
It was like taking candy from babies when 23-year-old Leopards lock Victor Kruger charged over the tryline five minutes before the break and another Pretorius penalty left the Eagles bemoaning the way they had rather wasted their early advantage.
The Leopards were sighing even louder after the break as they once again conceded a try from the kick-off, left wing Ghafoer Luckan darting over, but North-West’s number 11, Berty Visser, went hard and low to score in the 51st minute.
Six minutes later and, lo and behold, the Leopards were level after a try by inside centre Adriaan Engelbrecht, also converted by Pretorius.
But Van Vuuren kicked a 64th-minute penalty to reclaim the lead for the Eagles, before replacement flyhalf Burton Francis slotted two well-taken drop goals within two minutes to give South-Western Districts a nine-point buffer.
Inside centre Jeffrey Taljard and Herbst, twice, then knifed through for tries in the last six minutes to seal an exciting win for the Eagles, who now close to within two points of the Leopards and the Northern Free State Griffons on the log.
SWD EAGLES – Tries: Clinton Wagman, Johan Herbst (3), Nicolaas Hanekom, Ghafoer Luckan, Jeffrey Taljard. Conversions: Elric van Vuuren (7). Penalties: Van Vuuren (3). Drop goals: Burton Francis (2).
LEOPARDS – Tries: Hoffman Maritz, Victor Kruger, Berty Visser, Adriaan Engelbrecht. Conversions: Andre Pretorius (4). Penalties: Pretorius (2).