Nelspruit - The Pumas secured a historic home win in the first rugby match at the Mbombela Stadium, snatching a 22-21 Currie Cup victory over the Blue Bulls in Nelspruit on Friday night.
Showing tremendous determination, the hosts had the approximately 20 000-strong crowd on their feet throughout the match with flashes of brilliance on attack and gritty defence.
The Pumas took an early lead when eighth man Doppies le Grange scrambled over on the left wing to put them five points ahead, and eight minutes later flyhalf Elgar Watts broke clear from 60 metres out to dot down as well. And while Watts missed both conversions, the hosts had stolen the early advantage.
Bulls flyhalf Francois Brummer countered with a successful penalty kick in the 20th minute, but while the Bulls threatened to break through, the Pumas held up a solid wall of defence.
In the 27th minute, however, the visitors were rewarded when prop Dean Greyling barged over, and although Brummer missed the conversion, he made up for it with a penalty eight minutes later.
Brummer had two more kicks at the posts in the first half, but both missed wide, and the Bulls held a narrow 11-8 lead at half-time.
The visitors came out firing after the break and eighth man Dewald Potgieter stretched over next to the posts in the 47th minute, with Jacques-Louis Potgieter, replacing Brummer, adding two more points for the conversion.
But as the visitors looked to be taking the game away, Pumas replacement Ashwin Scott flew over on the right wing, and Watts converted, narrowing the gap to 18-17.
Potgieter stretched the gap to four points with a penalty for the Bulls in the 58th minute, but Allistair Kettledas charged clear for the Pumas two minutes later and offloaded to his centre partner, Tian Meyer, who dotted down for their third try of the match, and the hosts regained the lead.
Potgieter had two more chances with the boot in the dying minutes of the game, but missed wide with both attempts and the Pumas held on for a tremendous victory.
"The Bulls held us to the end, but this is the first time we have really played together as a team for 80 minutes this season," said Pumas captain Hannes Franklin.
"And with a crowd like this, we can see ourselves settling down in Nelspruit. We’re really happy."
Picking up only their second Currie Cup win of the season, the Pumas remain second from bottom on the log and still have a mountain to climb if they are to avoid a relegation battle.
A fourth loss for the Bulls sees the defending champions facing a significant challenge themselves to ensure a place in the semifinals.
Pumas: Tries: Doppies le Roux, Elgar Watts, Ashwin Scott.
Conversions: Watts (2). Penalties Watts.
Bulls: Tries: Dean Greyling, Dewald Potgieter. Conversions: Jacques-Louis Potgieter. Penalties: Francois Brummer (2), Jacques-Louis Potgieter.
15. Nicky Kritzinger, 14. Vainon Willis, 13. Shaun Venter, 12. Tian Meyer, 11. Allistair Kettledas, 10. Elgar Watts, 9. Jacques Coetzee, 8. Doppies le Roux, 7. Torsten van Jaarsveld, 6. Corné Steenkamp, 5. Marius Coetzer, 4. Andries Kruger, 3. Ashley Buys, 2. Hannes Franklin (captain), 1. Ronnie Uys.
Replacements: 16. Dee Jay Terblanche, 17. Dawie Steyn, 18. Boela Serfontein, 19. Eduan van der Walt, 20. Ricardo Croy, 21. Ashwin Scott, 22. Jaco Bouwer
15. Zane Kirchner, 14. Gerhard van den Heever, 13. Jaco Pretorius, 12. Wynand Olivier, 11. Hayden Groepes, 10. Francois Brummer, 9. Dustin Jinka, 8. Dewald Potgieter, 7. CJ Stander, 6. Derick Kuun (captain), 5. Juandre Kruger, 4. Wilhelm Steenkamp, 3. Werner Kruger, 2. Bandise Maku, 1. Dean Greyling
Replacements: 16. Henry Bantjes, 17. Frik Kirsten, 18. Fudge Mabeta, 19. Okkie Kruger, 20. Ruan Snyman, 21. Jacques-Louis Potgieter, 22. Jaco van der Westhuyzen