Pumas’ Currie Cup destiny is in their hands

Two-try Khwezi Mona on the charge. Photo: Dirk Kotze

The Steval Pumas moved to the bottom of the Currie Cup Premier Division log table after their 34-45 defeat to the Toyota Free State Cheetahs on Wednesday.

It was the Pumas third defeat in four matches. Their only victory came against the Xerox Golden Lions, at home in their first match in the competition.

The Pumas have conceded 144 points, an average of 36 a match.

The Mpumalanga boys’ performances have simply not been good enough. The team have played well in spurts and bursts, but have still to play 80 consecutive minutes of Currie Cup-standard rugby.

Should the Pumas end the Currie Cup on the bottom of the log table, they will play promotion-relegation matches against the First Division winners.

The Steval Pumas have eight matches in the next two months to prove they can compete in the oldest provincial rugby competition in the world.

The match on Wednesday was one of two contrasting halves.

Had the half-time deficit not been so big, the Pumas might have even won this game. The home team trailed 10-38 at the break.

The first half was a disaster for the Pumas. They could not tackle, they could not hold onto possession, they could not string phases together. They failed dismally to execute any form of structured, thinking rugby.

It was the Pumas’ worst first half performance at Mbombela Stadium since relocating from Witbank.

Justin van Staden put the first three points on the score board for the home side.
After that it was one-way traffic, as the Cheetahs ran in six tries, of which four were converted. The pace and intensity at which the visitors’ played was simply too high for the Pumas to cope with.

Leading by 11 points after their first two tries, the Cheetahs punted a goalable penalty into touch, instead of taking the almost-guaranteed three points for that vital 14-point lead. Ryno Benjamin scored off the resulting line-out. Niel Marais converted. Pumas 3 – Cheetahs 21. Van Staden kicked the restart into touch, gifting the Cheetahs a scrum in the middle of the field. A yellow card for Jerome Pretorius in the 29th minute did not help the Pumas’ cause and they conceded three tries in those ten minutes.

The final try of the half did come from the Pumas. Ruwellyn Isbell cut in on the angle to score.

It was not a pleasant 40 minutes for the Pumas’ faithful in the stands.

Whatever was communicated to them at half-time worked. The same team returned to the field and without any fuss or fanfare, put together a standard of play that the Cheetahs had no answer to.

The Pumas held onto the ball and the multiple phases followed. This resulted in territory gain and eventually, tries. The Cheetahs did not slip down a gear. The Pumas lifted their game to such an extent that they were quite clearly the dominant team of the second half.

They won the second half 24 points to seven. They scored four excellent team tries, keeping the ball for long periods and driving the Cheetahs back towards their own try line with high-tempo, well-executed, precision rugby. Prop Khwezi Mona dotted down twice.

Cheetahs scrum half, Shaun Venter, a former Pumas and Kings player, was superb. He is a scrum half in the mould of Robert du Preez, Joost van der Westhuizen and Fourie du Preez. It is about time the Springbok selectors realise that a big, nippy, fast-thinking scrum half is better than a small, nippy, fast-thinking one.

A rugby match is played over 80 minutes and at the final whistle the Cheetahs were the deserved winners.

The Pumas scored 31 points against the Cheetahs in 42 minutes. If they can maintain the level of rugby that resulted in this for an entire match, than their Currie Cup campaign is not over yet.

Pumas

Tries: Ruwellyn Isbell, Kwezi Mona (2), Jerome Pretorius, Frank Herne.
Conversions: Justin van Staden (3).
Penalty: Van Staden.

Cheetahs

Tries: Reniel Hugo, Makazole Mapimpi, Rayno Benjamin, Jacques du Toit, Malcolm Jaer (2), Niel Jordaan.

Conversions: Niel Marais (3), Clayton Blommetjies (2).

 

  AUTHOR
Mark Kinnear
Deputy editor

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