Johannesburg – If Western Province go on to win this year’s Premier Division Currie Cup title they would have gone through the season unbeaten; a quite remarkable achievement. Equally impressive has been the form and consistency of the First Division champions, the Pumas.
The second tier of South African rugby is largely forgotten by the watching public, but right now rugby supporters everywhere should be applauding the success of Jimmy Stonehouse and his team.
The Pumas have always been a tough team to beat at home, but to go unbeaten in 14 round-robin matches and then also win a semi-final and a final – this last weekend against the EP Kings – is a seriously good effort.
To be so consistent over 16-odd weeks of rugby, to score 76 tries and concede just 31 and top the log by 15 points more than the second-placed Kings doesn’t just happen. It requires hard work, dedication and commitment, from the players and the coaching team, because, let’s be honest, when you’re down in the First Division there are not too many people who care what happens. The Pumas obviously care a great deal and that’s why they’re reaping the rewards.
It could so easily have been two trophies in the cabinet for Stonehouse and Co. following their equally strong showing in the Vodacom Cup earlier this year. The Pumas dominated the North Section of that competition, too, topping the standings, with just one defeat – against the Golden Lions who, because they weren’t playing Super Rugby, pushed a very strong and experienced team into the competition. It would also be the Lions who’d deny Stonehouse’s team in the final, but at least for the players and the coaches, winning the First Division trophy would make up for the earlier disappointment.
The Pumas though are not yet done in 2013 and probably have their most important two fixtures of the year still ahead of them. As First Division winners they’ll now face the last-placed team in the Premier Division, Griquas, over two legs for a place in next year’s top flight.
One never knows what the difference in standard is between the two sections of the Currie Cup, but you can be sure the Pumas are desperate to win through to the Premier Division and after the season they’ve had, who’d bet against them? Griquas have been poor in the Currie Cup, but they’ve also shown at times this year – including this past Saturday against the Lions at Ellis Park – they’re no easy pushovers.
Whatever happens over the next two Fridays, right now Stonehouse and his players deserve a pat on the back for a job well done. And, may the best team win the promotion-relegation tie.