Pumas christen Mbombela in style
The Pumas christened the brand-new Mbombela Stadium in style when they held on for a nailbiting 22-21 (halftime 10-11) win over the Blue Bulls in Nelspruit on Friday.
It was the first-ever rugby match played at the Fifa World Cup venue and on the basis of this result, the men from Mpumalanga will be hard-pressed to play anywhere else in future.
They outscored the defending champions four tries to two to record the second victory of their campaign while for the Bulls it was their fourth defeat in eight matches.
In a match played in front of a festive 20 000-strong crowd, the Pumas came out determined to mark the occasion with a home-town win.
They dominated the opening exchanges and were rewarded when bullocking eighthman Doppies le Roux, having built up an impressive head of steam, crashed over as early as the third minute.
Flyhalf Elgar Watts’s conversion struck the uprights but the former Maties No 10 wasted little time getting onto the scoresheet.
From broken play, Watts sold an outrageous dummy in midfield, beating among others Springbok centre Wynand Olivier, to sprint in from 50 metres for an excellent solo try.
His conversion again struck the posts but at this stage it didn’t seem to matter as there was only one team in it.
But the Bulls, sporting the likes of returning Boks Olivier and Zane Kirchner, aren’t champions for nothing. They slowly began to claw their way back into the match after 20 minutes when flyhalf Francois Brummer kicked a penalty to reduce the arrears.
Bulls prop Dean Greyling bulldozed his way over the whitewash in the 27th minute before Brummer gave the visitors the lead for the first time eight minutes later with his second penalty.
The flyhalf however missed two kickable penalties in the 39th and 41st minutes respectively that would have given the Bulls a handy six-point lead at the break.
The second half saw no let-up in the intensity shown by both sides, but it was the Bulls who drew first blood when Springbok flanker Dewald Potgieter, playing in the number eight jersey, crashed over in the 47th minute for a try converted by replacement flyhalf Jacques-Louis Potgieter to make it 18-10.
The Pumas weren’t about to go quietly into the Lowveld night, however, replacement back Ashwin Scott diving over in the right-hand corner after 53 minutes for his side’s third try to make it 18-15.
For Watts it was a case of third time lucky with the touchline conversion and suddenly there was only one point in it with 25 minutes to go.
As the tension mounted, Potgieter nailed a 58th-minute penalty to extend the lead while Watts missed his third kick on the hour, a straight but long-range effort from halfway.
The drama went up a notch when centre Tiaan Meyer powered his way over to score the Pumas’ bonus-point try after 64 minutes, after they had elected to run the ball from a scrum in their own half.
The score gave the Pumas the lead with a quarter of an hour to play and, spurred on by their disbelieving supporters, the home side held out for a famous victory.
“We can see ourselves settling down in Nelspruit,” said jubilant Pumas captain Hannes Franklin after the match. “Well done to the whole team.”
Pumas 22 – Tries: Doppies le Roux, Elgar Watts, Ashwin Scott, Tiaan Meyer. Conversion: Watts.
Blue Bulls 21 – Tries: Dean Greyling, Dewald Potgieter. Conversion: Jacques-Louis Potgieter. Penalties: Francois Brummer (2), Potgieter.