The purring Pumas left us tickled pink and dominate our Currie Cup Team of the Week, writes Quintin van Jaarsveld.
The men from Mpumalanga finished their campaign on the ultimate high when they thrashed a youthful Bulls team 44-14 in the final game of the regular season in Nelspruit on Sunday. Having secured top spot with their midweek win over the Lions, the Bulls rested most of their first-choice players ahead of the play-offs, with Jake White fielding an inexperienced team filled with Under-21 greenhorns. The Pumas pounced, scoring six tries to two to break a decade-long drought against the Pretoria team.
On Saturday, the Cheetahs condemned Griquas to the dishonour of a winless season when they eked out a 22-18 victory in Kimberley. It was a case of close but no cigar in a campaign full of such agonising defeats for the Peacock Blues. It was an ill-fated season for the men from Bloemfontein as well. They had to do without their talismanic captain Ruan Pienaar (ruled out through injury) and saw their reign as Currie Cup champions ended by a last-gasp penalty by Province flyhalf Tim Swiel in Round Six. Saturday’s scrappy triumph may not have been the performance they wanted to put forth, but it was enough for them to end their campaign on a winning note.
Meanwhile, the much-anticipated crunch coastal clash between Western Province and the Sharks in Cape Town was cancelled due to a Covid-19 outbreak in the Durbanites’ camp. The two teams will now meet in the semi-finals next weekend, also at Newlands, while the Bulls will host the Lions in the other final four showdown.
There are eight Pumas in our team – including the Player of the Week – along with five Cheetahs, while the beaten Bulls and Griquas have one representative each.
15: Clinton Swarts (Bulls)
A tough decision as Tapiwa Mafura made a big impression, most tellingly his twisting offload that created space for Etienne Taljaard to go over in the corner. Ultimately, we decided to reward Swarts, the Bulls’ “Mr Do it All.” Joined the line at pace and fired some bullet passes at fullback, then shifted to flyhalf where he did his best to ignite the backline. Assumed all the kicking duties (at goal, tactical and restarts), reeled in Daniel Maartens through pure determination to save a try and even won a breakdown penalty in the 75th minute.
14: Luther Obi (Pumas)
Stocky Cheetahs speedster Duncan Saal impressed, but Obi was simply outstanding. The former Junior Springbok got on to the scoresheet early (time-stamped below), made a big hit on Arno Botha, won a restart and ripped the ball from Stravino Jacobs in his 22. The highlight of his afternoon, however, was the surging run and sublime offload to Maartens, which put the flanker over for a terrific try. Also gave the final pass in fellow flyer Taljaard’s try.
13: Dries Swanepoel (Cheetahs)
A menace in midfield. Ran intelligent, incisive lines and showed both his strength and stepping ability. Most pleasing and refreshing, the Cheetahs centre ran with the ball in both hands – a lost art – to keep Griquas guessing. Formed a formidable partnership with…
12 Frans Steyn (Cheetahs)
A second successive Man of the Match performance. Seemed to lack concentration at times, which led to a few uncharacteristic errors, and confirmed he found it difficult to get motivated for the dead runner derby in his post-match interview. Nevertheless, he was undoubtedly the difference between the teams, again slotting all of his kicks at goal – five penalties and a conversion – for a personal tally of 17 points.
11: Etienne Taljaard (Pumas)
Rosko Specman was well policed, so he tried to create opportunities for those around him and had a few good touches. Taljaard turned it on when called upon, rounding off a top team try (time-stamped below) and providing the momentum for Devon Williams’ second five-pointer with a slicing sidestep from a lineout. Very busy on defence, making 10 tackles in all.
10: Devon Williams (Pumas) – Player of the Week
A prolific puppet master. Pulled the strings with poise and flair and scored one of the tries of the season, breaking from just outside his 22 and chipping and re-gathering to dot down in scintillating fashion (time-stamped below). Sparked another epic try with a perfect chip over the rush defence and scored his second in the second half. Kicked extremely well, his distribution was excellent and he fronted up on defence.
9: Zak Burger (Griquas)
Tian Meyer made his presence felt, from his early try-saving effort and strong fundamentals to helping Marnus van der Merwe power over the try line. Burger was the gusty general he’s been all season, returning from an HIA after a nasty knock to inspire one last crack at a comeback. Opened the door for Daniel Kasende (who finished well) with a perfectly-timed pop pass before he nearly sparked the winning try with a quick tap. Even somehow charged down one of Steyn’s penalty kicks for touch.
8: Willie Engelbrecht (Pumas)
A beast on both sides of the ball. An unstoppable force as he powered over for a try and hit like a truck on defence. Earned his team an extra three points by latching on to the ball to win a turnover in the Bulls’ 22. Safe as houses when it came to fielding restarts and laying the foundation for clean exits and a strong lineout presence.
7: Phumzile Maqondwana (Pumas)
In a word, relentless. The rising star tackled everything that moved, finishing with a pack-high 11 hits. Went tit-for-tat in his head-to-head battle with Bulls skipper and ex-Springbok Botha, which speaks to the Pumas blue-chippers promising potential.
6: Daniel Maartens (Pumas)
Terrific, tireless outing earned plenty of praise from former Springbok flank Warren Brosnihan, who compared him to the Energiser bunny on commentary. World-class work rate was summed up when he collected Williams’ chip, linked up with Obi and finished off with excellent support play (time-stamped below). Pounced on a loose ball and sprinted some 50 metres before being reeled in by Swarts and won a penalty on the deck in his 22. Edged the ever-impressive Gideon van der Merwe.
5: Reniel Hugo (Cheetahs)
Darrien Landsberg was one of the stars of the Pumas’ famous win, carrying strongly and hustling hard. His excellent afternoon was cut short when he rolled his ankle after he poached a lineout in the 58th minute. Hugo produced a stellar 80-minute showing, saving the day for the Cheetahs when he stole a lineout on his 5m line in the final play of the game and made a team-high 11 tackles.
4: Pieter Jansen van Vuren (Pumas)
The unsung hero in his team’s triumph. Leading by example, the Pumas captain got through a ton of work in what was a complete performance. Hit the ball up seven times, second only to Engelbrecht’s eight as far as forwards go, made 10 tackles and stood tall in the lineouts to pip Cheetahs skipper Carl Wegner.
3: Conraad van Vuuren (Cheetahs)
A force for the 50 minutes he was afforded. Anchored the men from Bloemfontein’s dominant scrum and made meaningful contributions across the park. Pounced on the pill like a predator on its prey at the breakdown to win a penalty in the attacking 22 and made six tackles.
2: Marnus van der Merwe (Cheetahs)
Worked hard up front, most notably on defence, where his eight tackles were the third-most by a Cheetahs player on the day. Forced his way over for the opening try with a powerful leg drive (time-stamped below) and was solid in the set pieces. Opposite number Alandre van Rooyen also caught the eye but botched a try, while Joe van Zyl had a decent debut for the Bulls that included a five-pointer.
1: Morgan Naude (Pumas)
A cornerstone all campaign and capped things off with his most commanding performance yet. Bullied the Bulls in the scrums, ploughing straight through Jan-Hendrik Wessels and mauling ex-Springbok Marcel van der Merwe. Won no less than four penalties at scrum time that coupled with outstanding output in open play, which included a breakdown penalty in his 22 in the 66th minute, earned him the Man of the Match award.