CAPE TOWN – To be brutally honest, the Pumas can be relieved that they did not concede a century as the Cheetahs ran them rugged in a 53-31 Super Rugby Unlocked extravaganza in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
The 41-3 halftime score, with six tries already chalked up by the home side, told the true story of what happened at the Free State Stadium as the Cheetahs made a point to SA Rugby officials following their axing from the imminent PRO Rugby expansion.
A few years ago, the Pumas were campaigning for Super Rugby status, but now they can be grateful to compete in a tournament bearing that title – at least only in name.
The Mpumalanga outfit were so far off the pace that you could hear the heavy breathing from their much bigger pack of forwards by the 30-minute mark as the Cheetahs produced a heady cocktail of silky offloads, hard running and slick passing on attack, along with precision in defence to shut down their opponents.
Coach Hawies Fourie’s stamp was clearly evident on the Cheetahs team, who opened their account as early as the second minute when wing Malcolm Jaer finished off the first of a number of mesmerising passages of play that featured Clayton Blommetjies, Frans Steyn and Benhard Janse van Rensburg.
The latter, who had previously featured at flyhalf at the Sharks, showcased his pivot skills with several accurate passes that led to five-pointers.
Now an outside centre, Janse van Rensburg combined well with veteran Springbok Steyn, who was full of running and put in a few clever grubber kicks as well.
The Cheetahs stretched the Pumas defence from side to side, and timed their incursions up the middle at ideal moments. Loose trio Andisa Ntsila, Junior Pokomela and Jasper Wiese were prominent ball-carriers, and ensured that the light home pack didn’t have to engage in an arm-wrestle with the Pumas forwards.
The continuity in their play saw the hosts run up three tries inside 16 minutes, while the visitors also lost captain and centre Ryan Nell during that period to a knee injury.
A brace within three minutes by Rosko Specman took the Cheetahs out of sight at 34-3 after 31 minutes, and the match was over as a contest on the halftime hooter when Specman burst through again before feeding captain Ruan Pienaar with an easy touchdown to make it 41-3.
And when replacement William Small-Smith (who came on for Specman, who was nursing a hamstring strain) dotted down two minutes after the break, it looked like the Pumas were staring 100 points in the face.
Thankfully for frustrated coach Jimmy Stonehouse, they were able to stop the bleeding as scrumhalf Ginter Smuts pounced on a mistake by Pienaar – who let the ball slip through his legs from a scrum – to score their opening try.
The Pumas forwards finally got to grips with their fitter counterparts, but lost too many lineouts to create a solid base to work from. Even consolation tries by Daniel Maartens, Le Roux Roets and Neil Maritz didn’t have a material effect on the outcome, with Cheetahs No 14 Jaer completing his hat trick in the third quarter.
Cheetahs 53 – Tries: Malcolm Jaer (3), Junior Pokomela, Rosko Specman (2), Ruan Pienaar, William Small-Smith. Conversions: Pienaar (5). Penalty: Pienaar (1).
Pumas 31 – Tries: Ginter Smuts, Daniel Maartens, Le Roux Roets, Neil Maritz. Conversions: Eddie Fouché (4). Penalty: Fouché (1).