Durban - The Pumas had to get to the Curie Cup final through the back door, with gritty away victories over Griquas and the Sharks in the last fortnight, but coach Jimmy Stonehouse says they are saving the best for last.
The defending champions are best described as “workmanlike” in how they go about their business, but the veteran coach believes something extra will be needed to beat the Cheetahs in Saturday’s final.
“We are working on a few things,” the wily old campaigner said. “You have to bring a little something new to a final. Every guy has something up their sleeve…”
But before any new tricks can be sprung on the Free Staters, the basics have to be done and the Pumas were exposed by the Sharks in the set scrums.
“We did struggle a bit in the scrums against the Sharks, that’s for sure but we’ll be fine against the Cheetahs. We know how to fix it, so it’s not really a concern for us.
The Airlink Pumas are heading to Bloemfontein for their #CurrieCup defence.— SuperSport Rugby (@SSRugby) June 17, 2023
They defeat the Cell C Shark 26-20 in Durban to set up a clash against the Toyota Cheetahs in the final. pic.twitter.com/xVvOT1WPpR
“One of the key focus areas in the final will be the set-pieces, and we have to be 100 percent ready for it. Our mauls, too, because we know how much of a threat they are from the mauls – it’s probably their biggest weapon. So that’s what we have to get right.”
The crafty coach threw in a comment about the breakdown which he hopes will make it to the referee.
“At the breakdowns, they keep Jeandré (Rudolph) and Daniel (Maartens) on the bench to flood the breakdowns. So if the referee can keep an eye on that, that could possibly also help us.”
The last time the teams met, the Cheetahs won 29-14 in Nelspruit but Stonehouse says little can be read into that result.
“That last game in Nelspruit could’ve gone our way, but this week’s a final in Bloemfontein and anything can happen.
“If things work out like we’ve planned and our discipline is 100 percent, and Tinus de Beer’s kicking boot is on song, then we can repeat what happened in 2022.
“We’re also fortunate to report no injuries and have the same team available, with no niggles.”
Meanwhile, SA Rugby CEO Rian Oberholzer says it is unlikely that SA Rugby can assist Stonehouse in his plea for another competition for his team. After beating the Sharks, Stonehouse said: “We have a seven-month pre-season before the Currie Cup.”
“No doors are closed, but we must be realistic in the current climate of the rugby economy,” Oberholzer said.
“Rand weakness and the inflated costs of international travel mean that it would require an extremely robust and financially secure business plan to make further international competition viable right now.”
“Rugby in all countries doesn’t have the money to play rugby for the sake of playing rugby.
“Competitions need to be self-funding at the very least and, therefore, any new competition ideas must bring with them confirmed broadcast rights sales, meaningful sponsorship opportunities, and teams and environments that are attractive to fans and broadcasters.”