Nelspruit - The Pumas announced their re-entry into the Currie Cup Premier Division in emphatic style as they routed Griquas 33-15 in the second and deciding leg of the promotion-relegation playoffs in Nelspruit on Friday evening.
While it was jubilation in Nelspruit as big-time rugby would be a regular feature in Mpumalanga next year, Griquas, the Cinderella team in the Currie Cup will be playing their rugby in the First Division.
The promotion-relegation decider was always going to be a mouth-watering encounter following Griquas’ narrow two-point victory in the first leg in Kimberley.
The match lived up to expectations as Griquas played for their survival in the Premier League, while the Pumas were looking to finish a successful season with promotion.
Going into the half-time break the match was on a knife edge as the Pumas held on to a slender 16-12 lead, which at that point would have guaranteed them a place among the top-six provincial teams.
Griquas had the Pumas’ number in the scrums as they pushed them into submission winning import tightheads on the home sides’ feed.
However, the contest was somewhat levelled as the hosts dominated the breakdown area which provided their dangerous back three with a strong attacking platform.
The visitors fired off the first salvo with fullback Gouws Prinsloo opening the scores with a penalty conversion two minutes into the match.
Not to be outshone by the Northern Cape side, the Pumas launched a dangerous attack from the restart with centre Stefan Watermeyer crossing the line in the fourth minute.
The Pumas’ enterprising fullback Coenie van Wyk split Griquas’ defensive line in the midfield to offload to Watermeyer, who had easy passage over the whitewash, with flyhalf JC Roos converting.
The Mpumalanga side suffered a debilitating blow with one of their strong men, lock Rudi Mathee was stretchered off after he received a boot to the head in a tackle, with Eduan van der Walt replacing him.
Griquas came painstakingly close to regaining the lead when prop Steph Roberts got over the line, but referee Craig Joubert ruled there was double movement involved.
The visitors nevertheless came away with three points with Prinsloo planting a penalty conversion to bring his side within a point of the Pumas in the 13th minute.
Roos, however, pulled back another three points with a penalty goal before the match tilted slightly in Griquas’ favour when Pumas flanker Renaldo Bothma was yellow carded for a dangerous high tackle.
During Bothma’s 10 minute hiatus on the sideline, Griquas added six points through two penalty conversions courtesy of Prinsloo.
Four minutes before the half-time break the Pumas ground their way towards the Peacock Blues’ line to set Roos up for a drop goal which he easily sent through the uprights to extend their lead.
An arm wrestle ensued in the opening minutes of the second half with neither side finding the breakthrough.
A change in personnel in the front row in the second half saw the Pumas gaining dominance in the scrums, which ultimately tipped the scales in their favour.
The match reached a turning point in the 50th minute, when Joubert awarded a penalty try to the Pumas and flashed a yellow card to Griquas centre Jean Stemmet for a deliberate knockdown.
The Pumas were in a strong scoring position with a remarkable overlap deep inside the visitors’ 22 when Stemmet infringed, with Roos converting the try for a commanding 23-12 lead.
As the taste of victory grew stronger, the Pumas went on an all-out attack as they got a tighthead scrum and a penalty for the home side’s flyhalf to further extend their lead before Prinsloo pulled back another three points in the 66th minute.
Roos knocked over another penalty conversion nine minutes from time before winger Rosco Speckman tied up the victory with a try at the death, with the flyhalf converting to the elation of the enthusiastic Mbombela crowd.
After the match Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse grabbed the stadium microphone and gave the crowd a rendition of Neil diamond's "I am, I said".
Tries: Stefan Watemeyer, Rosco Speckman, Penalty Try
Conversions: JC Roos (3)
Penalties: Roos (3)
Drop goal: Roos
Penalties: Gouws Prinsloo