Cape Town — The Pumas are not giving up their Currie Cup title without a fight as they played the conditions to perfection to beat Griquas 27-17 earlier today to secure their semi-final spot.
The Mpumalanga side were 10-3 behind late in the first half, but struck just before the hooter and kept their cool in the final quarter to get the better of the Northern Cape outfit at Griqua Park for the second time in a row, following last year’s Currie Cup final triumph, which sees Griquas knocked out of the play-off race.
The home side, though, will be left frustrated by their own poor ball retention as several knock-ons halted their momentum, while halfbacks Johan Mulder and Lubabalo Dobela, as well as fullback George Whitehead, kicked away precious possession when keeping the ball was the better option.
Things were tight in the first half as Whitehead and Tinus de Beer exchanged penalties to make it 3-3 after 34 minutes, but it was Griquas who scored the first try when hooker Janco Uys delivered a tasty offload for Dobela to race over and dot down.
The Pumas, though, keep fighting, and after another multi-phase attack, centre Diego Appollis provided the necessary power and got his pass away to lock Deon Slabbert to score, with De Beer’s conversion levelling matters at 10-10 at halftime.
Griquas coach Pieter Bergh, though, would not have been happy with the way his team wasted possession when opting to kick with the wind behind their backs, which should have resulted in more points on the board.
The home side had a great start to the second half when a poor clearance kick by Pumas fullback Devon Williams saw Dobela dancing his way past two defenders before finding flank Thabo Ndimande, who dived over for Griquas’ second five-pointer.
But their handling errors relieved the pressure for the Pumas, who showed them how it should be done in the second half as they kept bashing away at the Griquas line.
The visitors were eventually rewarded when a superb flip-on by Williams put big left wing Etienne Taljaard into space, and after a strong run by right wing Andrew Kota, flank Franna Kleinhans barged his away over, with De Beer making it 17-17 with the conversion.
The Pumas dominated from that point onwards, camping inside the Griquas 22 as the hosts battled to boot their way out of their half.
De Beer slotted a penalty with 15 minutes to go, and despite desperate defence from Griquas to keep the Pumas at bay, the decisive moment came with four minutes left as a high kick was fumbled in the 22, and No 8 Kwanda Dimaza offloaded to replacement centre Wian van Niekerk for the winning try.
The victory takes Jimmy Stonehouse’s Pumas to third position on 40 points, behind the Sharks (48) and Cheetahs (46).
The Lions moved up to fourth with their 39-22 win over the Griffons in Welkom earlier today, which sees them on 36 points.
But the Blue Bulls, currently fifth on 36, need to beat the Cheetahs at Loftus Versfeld tomorrow (3pm kickoff) to leapfrog the Lions and claim the final semi-final place.
Western Province, who are seventh on 32 points, need to gain a bonus-point win over the Sharks in Cape Town tomorrow (5.05pm), and hope that the Bulls lose to the Cheetahs without earning more than one bonus point.
Griquas 17 – Tries: Lubabalo Dobela, Thabo Ndimande. Conversions: George Whitehead (2). Penalty: Whitehead (1).
Pumas 27 – Tries: Deon Slabbert, Franna Kleinhans, Wian van Niekerk. Conversions: Tinus de Beer (3). Penalties: De Beer (2).