Pumas find straps in second half
The Mpumalanga Pumas found their straps after half time as they beat the Northern Free State Griffons 43-7 in their top-of-the-log Absa Currie Cup First Division match in Witbank on Saturday.
The match featured the most dramatic turnaround as the Griffons, who had been calling the shots in the first half to lead 7-0 at the break, suffered a spectacular collapse, falling to pieces in front of a shocked crowd both at the ground and those watching on TV.
The Pumas enjoyed more territory and possession in the first half, but failed to press home their advantage due to costly handling errors in the red zone.
The Griffons defended stoutly and waited for their chance, which came in the 29th minute when flyhalf Kennedy Tsimba's beautifully weighted, delayed pass found outside centre Werner Griesel cutting back through a gap to score.
The slick move came from a five-metre scrum, which was earned after scrumhalf Gerrie Odendaal had taken a penalty quickly, kicked ahead and a superb chase and toe ahead by eighthman Nicky Steyn forced the Pumas to carry the ball over their own line.
Tsimba converted and the Griffons were smiling at half time. They also started strongly straight after the break, but Tsimba, whose conversion was the only points he notched on the day, missed a sixth-minute penalty.
But the interval clearly helped the Pumas as they upped the intensity in the second half and suddenly the Griffons seemed scared to play with the same patience that had served them so well in the first half.
In the 48th minute, centre Thabang Molefe's aimless kick down the middle of the field not only killed a promising Northern Free State counter-attack but heralded the start of their terrible collapse.
Flyhalf Valentine van Wyk sparked things by jinking past three defenders, replacement flank Eduan van der Walt thundered up in support and his well-timed pass found Alistair Kettledas tearing through out wide for the Pumas' opening try.
It almost immediately became worse for the Griffons as wing Eddie Fredericks gifted another try two minutes later for Kettledas with an awful crossfield kick from his own 22. Pumas wing Braam Pretorius kicked his second conversion for a 14-7 lead.
The Pumas kicking, in contrast, was spot on and, with just three more minutes elapsed on the clock, centre Shaun Venter's neat crossfield grubber was pounced on by centre Tiaan Marx, who passed to an elated MJ Mentz to score.
The Pumas had the upper hand at the rucks throughout the match and, in the 59th minute, Pretorius kicked his one and only penalty to give the home side a 22-7 lead.
Mpumalanga showed no inclination to sit on their lead, however, and continued to use the wind to keep the Griffons inside their own territory.
A nervous attempt to run a kick back saw replacement flank Johan van Heerden intercept the ball and he fed fullback Mentz, who had the pace to destroy the cover defence and score a killer try that put the Pumas 29-7 ahead with Pretorius's conversion.
Kettledas roared over for his hat-trick try in the 65th minute after Van Wyk had again ripped through the defence, and a thoroughly awful second half for the Griffons ended with Van der Walt scoring as he took a quick tap penalty and charged through a dreadfully dozy defence.
The daring running of the likes of Van Wyk, Kettledas and Mentz had been thrilling to see, but they were merely feeding off the superb efforts of their forwards (as well as some astonishing Griffons mistakes).
Griffons - Try: Werner Griesel. Conversion: Kennedy Tsimba.
Pumas - Tries: Alistair Kettledas (3), MJ Mentz (2), Eduan van der Walt. Conversions: Braam Pretorius (5). Penalty: Pretorius.