Pumas coach MJ Mentz acknowledged that his charges were outclassed in their last home game of the season on Friday night, as they conceded eight tries on their way to a 10-52 loss against the Toyota Free State Cheetahs, who cemented their status as the standout team in this year’s Currie Cup.
The home side was under the cosh early as Ryno Benjamin went over for the first try of the match in the 7thminute. In a familiar trend for the Nelspruiters this season, flyhalf Francois Brummer opened his team’s account with a penalty in the 21st minute.
The game opened up in the second period of the half, with the Steval Pumas defence not able to withstand an onslaught of typical running rugby from the log leaders.
Former Steval Pumas player Uzair Casseim scored from a driving maul, and his flank partner Paul Schoeman gathered a switch pass from lock Justin Basson to dot down two minutes later.
The Steval Pumas struggled in the lineouts throughout the half, and were punished when the Cheetahs capitalised on a turnover, sending the ball through the hands and putting Francois Venter in for the bonus point try. Just before halftime, Benjamin put in a cross kick to the left wing for a wide-open Paul Schoeman to score his second and bring the score to 31-3.
Benjamin scored his second eight minutes into the second half and went over for his hat-trick 10 minutes later as the Cheetahs showed willingness to attack from their own half.
The Steval Pumas showed some promise when they saw the ball, but handling errors and turnovers from set pieces and breakdowns meant that several forays into the Cheetahs 22 went unrewarded. The side has shown a second half fighting spirit throughout the season, and eventually cracked the Cheetahs defence in the 71st minute, with Frank Herne stretching over from a driving maul. But the Cheetahs drove home their advantage when replacement Elandre Huggett went over for a converted try to bring the final score to 52-10.
“We were definitely totally outplayed by a very good Cheetahs team. We couldn’t keep up with their physicality and tempo. I think they kept the ball alive very well in contact and we couldn’t physically match up and at the end of the day if we can’t win our set piece its always going to be a long night,” said Mentz.
Mentz thanked the home fans for their support this season and apologised for not playing to expectations.
“All our loyal supporters throughout the years have been very good to us and unfortunately we let them down this season. We are very disappointed but we will go back and work very hard. We know we need to pull together and come out and perform much better next year,” Mentz said.
Pumas: Try: Frank Herne
Conversion: Francois Brummer
Cheetahs: Tries: Ryno Benjamin (3) Uzair Casseim, Paul Schoeman (2), Francois Venter, Elandre Hugget
Conversions: Niel Marais (5), Fred Zeilinga