Sport

RUGBY

Underdogs Pumas and Cheetahs pounce on Sharks and Bulls to set up Currie Cup final clash

Underdogs Pumas and Cheetahs pounce on Sharks and Bulls to set up Currie Cup final clash
Tinus de Beer of the Airlink Pumas tackled by Henco Venter of the Cell C Sharks during the Currie Cup Premier Division semifinal match between Cell C Sharks and Airlink Pumas at Hollywoodbets Kings Park on 17 June 2023 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (Photo: Charle Lombard / Gallo Images)

The Pumas and Cheetahs trounced the United Rugby Championship-playing Sharks and Bulls, respectively, on Saturday to set up a catfight in the Currie Cup final next week.

The Currie Cup finalists are confirmed after a weekend of high-intensity knockout rugby. The two United Rugby Championship sides, the Sharks and Bulls, were mauled by the two smaller local unions, the Pumas and Cheetahs.

The Cheetahs thrashed the Bulls 39-10 in Bloemfontein before the Pumas upset the Sharks 26-20 at Kings Park Stadium in Durban.

Experienced halfback Ruan Pienaar led the way for the Cheetahs, striking 22 points off his boot to help book a home semifinal for the Bloemfontein side. The 39-year-old, playing at flyhalf, won the tactical battle against his opposite number, Chris Smith. 

The loss ends a disappointing season for the Bulls, who have fallen short in three competitions. 

The Cheetahs were better than the Bulls in every facet of the game. They were quicker at the rucks, had more intensity in their defensive line speed and were sharper and more incisive in attack. 

This was exemplified in the third minute of the match when a lackadaisical Johan Goosen took his time to return a Pienaar clearance kick only to be charged down by inside centre Reinhardt Fortuin who collected the ball and dotted down under the posts.

The rest of the first half continued in the same vein for both sides as the Cheetahs took a 20-3 lead. The Bulls got their first try of the match in the 50th minute through a rolling maul as hooker Johan Grobbelaar got over the whitewash, and it looked like the match would go down to the wire as the Bulls continued to throw caution to the wind. 

Reserve loose forward WJ Steenkamp thought he made the score 26-17 with 15 minutes to go after a barnstorming run. But the TMO ruled that the long pass by Chris Smith to him was forward. 

While Pienaar continued to tick the scoreboard over for the Cheetahs, capitalising on the Bulls’ ill discipline, Bulls hooker Jan-Hendrik Wessels was yellow-carded after a tip tackle and instigating a push-and-shove as the side from Pretoria ended the game with 14 men. 

The 39-10 victory was a just reward for a better disciplined and more cohesive Cheetahs side. 

Ruan Pienaar of the Toyota Cheetahs during the Currie Cup Premier Division semifinal match between Toyota Cheetahs and Vodacom Bulls at Toyota Stadium on 17 June 2023 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (Photo: Charle Lombard / Gallo Images)

Tinus de Beer of the Airlink Pumas during the Currie Cup Premier Division semifinal match between Cell C Sharks and Airlink Pumas at Hollywoodbets Kings Park on 17 June 2023 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. (Photo: Charle Lombard / Gallo Images)

Pumas pounce again 

The match in Durban was more closely fought as the lead exchanged hands several times between the Pumas and the Sharks. 

The reigning Currie Cup champions, the Pumas, will travel to Bloemfontein next week where they will look to defend the title they won for the first time in their history last season.

The Pumas’ defence was nearly impenetrable as they kept the Sharks to only two tries despite the attempted enterprise on attack from the Durban-based side. 

“I’m very proud of these kids. They’re just amazing and they have fought week after week,” head coach Jimmy Stonehouse told the media after the match. 

“We don’t have the depth to change players and they just keep on going, and it’s amazing to see the way they fought out there.

“We just hit them back over and over again, and that’s pure heart and belief … We’ve got the belief to win, and it doesn’t matter if it’s home or away.”

The Pumas scored four tries through Corne Fourie, Simon Raw, Andrew Kota and Pieter Jacobs. Pivot Tinus de Beer converted three of them. 

“It’s just the supporters and spectators that don’t give us a chance because we’re a small union. But we come in week in and week out and play a good brand of rugby, and it’s just amazing,” Stonehouse added. “It’s about showing out there that we belong somewhere.”

“I practise and preach this with the players, and I tell them that if the Pumas win, they will go somewhere. If they have a belief that they’re brilliant and want to do stuff on their own, they will go nowhere,” the Pumas’ mentor said.

“At the end of this season Tinus de Beer is going to Wales, Ali Mgijima is going to the Cheetahs, Diego Appollis to the Sharks … everybody is going, just like last year.”

Despite another exodus looming for the side from Mbombela, they are on track to record an almost unthinkable Currie Cup double. DM

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