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Undefeated Griquas’ overdrive gear compels Pumas to defeat in SA Cup final

The Griquas are the deserved 2024 SA Cup champions and had a hunger the Pumas could not match - they did the basics right and the rest fell into place.

The Airlink Pumas were their own worst enemy in the 46-24 SA Cup final defeat against the Suzuki Griquas at the Suzuki Stadium in Kimberley on Saturday.

Coach Jimmy Stonehouse said despite the Pumas losing 22 players (to other teams) and the Griquas losing three, since the Pumas won the Currie Cup in 2022, the players only had themselves to blame for this defeat.

Take nothing away from the home team – they executed a ruthless and clinical game plan – but the Pumas were a poor reflection of the team that won seven out of eight matches to make the final.

Prior to the final, the Pumas had conceded 80 points in eight matches (640 minutes of rugby), an average of 10 points a game. The Griquas put 46 points past them in 80 minutes. This was the first and only match in their SA Cup campaign in which the Pumas were not in the lead at some stage of the 80 minutes.

The Pumas’ defence had no answer to the devastating onslaught from the home team. Two yellow cards within a few minutes of each other early in the first half cost the Pumas – they conceded 22 points.

Two yellow cards for the Griquas took them down to 13 men for the end of the first and the beginning of the second half, and did contribute to the Pumas fightback, but they also conceded a scrum penalty and the resulting three points during this period.

Stefan Coetzee claims the high ball.

Griquas coach Pieter Bergh’s side led from the onset, racing into a 29-0 lead in the first 25 minutes and never lost it.

The Peacock Blues delivered a masterclass in the first half to effectively take the game away from the team from Mpumalanga.

The men from the Northern Cape made a positive start by scoring a converted try through left wing Sako Makata in the sixth minute, which was converted by George Whitehead.

Whitehead then hit the target again barely one minute later when he slotted a penalty goal following a high tackle, which saw right wing Stefan Coetzee sent to the sin bin. This was followed by a penalty try when the Airlink Pumas pulled down a driving maul with the try line beckoning.

With two opponents in the sin bin, the Suzuki Griquas tried to run the Airlink Pumas off their feet, and it was no surprise when full back Cameron Hufke was sent over in the corner following a two-man overlap, to make it 22-0.

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The Suzuki Griquas continued to tighten the screws, and six minutes later, Whitehead exploited space behind the Airlink Pumas’ defensive line when he collected his own grubber kick to run in under the poles, with the conversion stretching the hosts’ lead to 29-0 inside 25 minutes.

But the Airlink Pumas staged their fightback, which saw them awarded a penalty try and earning a yellow card for the hosts’ outside centre Stephan Smit.

That and a great counterattacking try by replacement fly half Gene Willemse narrowed the deficit to 15 points (29-14) at half-time.

Discipline continued to plague both sides, and just before Willemse’s try, Makata became the fourth player to see yellow in the first half when he was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle.

After the break, the two teams improved their discipline, which resulted in an arm wrestle for possession, territory and points.
The Suzuki Griquas forced another scrum penalty early in the second stanza and allowed Whitehead to easily slot his second penalty goal of the afternoon to increase the lead to 32-14.

However, the Airlink Pumas refused to go away, and their forwards started to get more into the game, which also saw them enjoying more possession. Replacement hooker Darnell Osuagwu continued with his try-scoring streak by dotting down for the visitors after a sustained period of pressure.

The momentum was now with the team from Mpumalanga, and shortly thereafter it was Airlink Pumas wing Lundi Msenge who finished off a move to cut the lead to 32-24 with 10 minutes of play left on the clock.

But two quick tries by replacements Gustav du Rand (hooker) and Bobby Alexander (scrum half) sealed the fate of the visitors and led to wild celebrations by the home team and their supporters.

Sampie Swiegers on the charge for the Pumas.

The Airlink Pumas’ coach, Jimmy Stonehouse, rued the poor start to the match by the Pumas. “The Griquas scored an easy try in the sixth minute, and then we kicked the restart short. Two minutes later we got a yellow card and now we had a problem. It snowballed from there – we were struggling to get back in the game,” he said.
Stonehouse admitted the errors and poor decision-making cost the team. “Gene Willemse missed six points at goal. We failed to kick a penalty into touch, and this cost us territory and gave the momentum back to the Griquas. We were so far down we had to run the ball, then some players kicked possession away.”

He also believes that the referee’s calls and luck did not always go their way. “We had four tries disallowed, of which only two went to the third match official. Ross Braude tapped and nearly scored. But the Griquas were not back ten metres. It could have been a yellow card for cynical play, but that call was not made.”
The two yellow cards were early nails in the Pumas’ coffin. “With the two yellows we struggled to fight back and the score was suddenly 29-0. I must give credit to the guys for how they came back from there. The Griquas’ last two tries also came from 50-50 calls – did we knock the ball back or did Griquas knock the ball forward?”

Stonehouse knows plenty of hard work lies ahead for the Mpumalanga team going into the Currie Cup. “The score did not reflect well on us. If you review the game, we have problems here and there. We have to add it up or we are going to have problems going forward. The boys need to be consistent in what we are executing. When players make poor decisions out of their own – that is the stuff that kills us.”

The Pumas coach was full of praise for the Griquas. “They did not lose a game in the campaign and deserved to win the SA Cup. Captain George Whitehead did everything right. He played a huge role in the territorial and tactical kicking battle. But he had quality players around him. They played as a unit. But are we down and out? No, we will be back,” concluded Stonehouse.

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