Cheetahs' play-off hopes crushed in Nelspruit loss
CURRIE CUP REPORT: The Cheetahs’ play-off hopes were crushed after they went down 19-28 to the Pumas in Nelspruit on Saturday.
The four points for the win strengthened the Pumas’ Currie Cup play-off push ahead of their final-round clash against Griquas.
Following their 26-33 midweek defeat to the Bulls, the pressure was on Jimmy Stonehouse’s charges as a second loss to the Free Staters this season would see them drop out of the top four.
However, they controlled the match throughout, using one of their best weapons – their well-structured driving maul – to punish the Cheetahs, with evergreen hooker Simon Westraadt scoring a brace.
The Pumas had the lion’s share of possession and although they could never pull as clear as they would’ve liked, the victory was an all-important one as they remained in third position.
The visitors were their own worst enemies, making basic mistakes, having a major malfunction at line-out time and giving away far too many penalties. Their indiscipline cost them two yellow cards plus a penalty try and ultimately signalled the end of their semifinal hopes.
The Pumas went to their dominant driving maul early to draw first blood as Westraadt scored an unconverted try five minutes into the match.
The forward pack of the Pumas continued their strong start by winning a scrum penalty, which took them back into the attacking 22, where the visitors were caught offside and Eddie Fouché kicked a straightforward penalty goal from right in front of the posts.
Basic mistakes and indiscipline continued to hamper the Cheetahs and a seventh penalty in the first quarter allowed the home team to launch another attack. A textbook turnover from Junior Pokomela, however, relieved the pressure. It was short-lived as Fouché stretched the scoreline to 11-0 in the 24th minute after Aidon Davis failed to roll away.
The Cheetahs finally got a bit of rhythm and a strong carry by David Brits provided the go-forward that led to an easy run in for Victor Sekekete.
Captain Ruan Pienaar, playing in the No.10 jersey instead of in his usual role of scrumhalf, added the conversion.
The visitors then suffered a setback as they lost tighthead Aranos Coetzee to a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Etienne Taljaard in the 31st minute. It led to inspired defence by the outmanned Cheetahs, which they turned into attack, but the Pumas stood up when it mattered most as they won a vital scrum penalty on their five-metre line.
They went on to finish the half on a perfect note with Westraadt going over for his second try, a carbon copy of the first, with Fouché turning it into a seven-pointer to give the hosts an 18-7 lead at half-time.
Back to 15 men, the Cheetahs were under immense pressure at the start of the second stanza but showed character to keep out the hosts, stopping their driving maul and forcing a knock-on to stay in the contest.
The catfight turned scrappy for most of the third quarter as mistakes from both teams dragged the tempo down. The first points of the half came on the hour-mark, Fouché slotting a third penalty goal to leave the Cheetahs with everything to do as they trailed by 14.
Hawies Fourie’s men responded by giving the hosts a dose of their own medicine, driving the ball up some 18 metres for replacement Andisa Ntsila to dot down in the right-hand corner. Pienaar’s excellent conversion made it 21-14 with 15 minutes remaining.
Just two minutes later, they well and truly shot themselves in the foot. Wing Duncan Saal saw yellow for not rolling away and immediately afterwards, they conceded a penalty try and were down to 13 as try-scorer Ntsila was sent to the bin for sacking the driving maul.
When Willie Engelbrecht was yellow-carded for a breakdown infringement, Clayton Blommetjies scored with five minutes remaining, but Brandon Thomson missed the conversion and any chance of a possible comeback of some kind went out of the window.
Replacement Niel Otto cantered over from the restart, however, the try was disallowed due to an illegal challenge on Blommetjies in the air. As a result, the Pumas missed out on a bonus point try but they nevertheless claimed a crucial win, their first over the Free Staters since 2018.
Man of the match: Pumas hooker Simon Westraadt gets the award. He scored two tries from mauls and he was just outstanding with ball in hand in open play.
Tries: Westraadt 2, Penalty Try
Pens: Fouche 3
Tries: Sekekete, Ntsila, Blommetjies
Cons: Pienaar 2
Yellow card: Aranos Coetzee (Cheetahs, 32 – foul play, high tackle), Duncan Saal (Cheetahs, 68 – cynical play, not rolling away); Andisa Ntsila (Cheetahs, 70 -cynical play, collapsing the maul), Willie Engelbrecht (Pumas, 75 – cynical play, collapsing the maul).
Pumas: 15 Devon Williams, 14 Sebastián de Klerk, 13 Erich Cronje, 12 Matt More, 11 Etienne Taljaard, 10 Eddie Fouche, 9 Ginter Smuts, 8 Willie Engelbrecht, 7 Phumzile Maqondwana, 6 Daniel Maartens, 5 Pieter van Vuuren (captain), 4 Shane Kirkwood, 3 Marné Coetzee, 2 Simon Westraadt, 1 Dewald Maritz.
Replacements: 16 Eduan Swart, 17 Ettiene Janeke, 18 Ignatius Prinsloo, 19 Kwanda Dimaza, 20 Niel Otto, 21 Chriswill September, 22 Ali Mgijima, 23 Tapiwa Mafura.
Cheetahs: 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Duncan Saal, 13 David Brits, 12 Siya Masuku, 11 Malcolm Jaer, 10 Ruan Pienaar (captain), 9 Tian Meyer, 8 Mihlali Mosi, 7 Aidon Davis, 6 Junior Pokomela, 5 Victor Sekekete, 4 Rynier Bernardo, 3 Aranos Coetzee, 2 Marnus van der Merwe 1 Cameron Dawson.
Replacements: 16 Louis van der Westhuizen, 17 Hencus van Wyk, 18 Conraad van Vuuren, 19 Reinier Viljoen, 20 Andisa Ntsila, 21 Chris Smit, 22 Brandon Thomson, 23 Evardi Boshoff.
Referee: Aimee Barrett-Theron
Assistant Referees: Local appointments
TMO: Quinton Immelman
Additional source: SA Rugby