The Steval Pumas scored five tries en route to a convincing 38-20 (halftime 16-6) victory over a poor Leopards side in the Absa Currie Cup First Division match at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on Friday.
The match had barely begun before the referee, Jaco Peyper, was caught up in a yellow card controversy, as he had been the previous week. Edmar Marais received his marching orders when the touch judge called Peyper to say that the Leopards' left winger had pull the dreadlocks of his conterpart, Rosco Speckman.
The TMO ruled that there was no evidence to make a ruling but after consulting with the touch judge again, Peyper pulled out the yellow card. The Pumas tried for 17 phases to cross the visitors' line, but eventually decided to kick for poles when the Leopards were caught off-side at a ruck. JC Roos slotted the penalty to give the hosts a 3-0 lead.
Such was the domination of the home team in the first 10 minutes, that the Leopards had made 25 tackles to only two from the Pumas. However, the men from Potchefstroom levelled matters immediately through Adriaan Engelbrecht, after Corne Fourie was blown up for going off his feet.
Roos regained the lead for the hosts with a penalty before Trompie Pretorius scored the first try of the match, and his third of the season. The outside centre found himself on the left wing and cut in on the angle beautifully to wrong foot the defence, before spinning out of a tackle to fall over the line. Roos converted the try to extend the lead to 10 points.
Both teams traded penalties before the first half was out, with the Leopards piling on the pressure in the final 10 minutes, without being able to crack the hosts' defence.
The second half began just as the first half did, with Peyper employing his star-studded yellow card. This time for the Pumas' No 8, RW Kemp. The burly loose forward was penalised for hands in the ruck and Peyper ruled that it had been a team warning which prompted the yellow card. Engelbrecht's penalty attempt fell just short and wide of the mark, leaving the visitors 10 points behind.
The sending off seemed to wake the home side up as they scored two tries while being down to 14 men, first through Coenie van Wyk and then a brilliant try by Speckman, who flew down the left wing after being put into space by Renaldo Bothma.
The flanker received the ball from Faf de Klerk as the nuggety scrumhalf dummied at the base of a ruck on his own 22 metre area. Roos could only convert Speckman's try as the Pumas raced into a 28-6 lead.
Shortly after Kemp's return to the field, the Pumas scored their bonus-point try when Corne Steenkamp controlled the ball well at the back of a maul. Roos could not convert the flanker's try as his boot seemed to have lost its guidance system from the first half.
Ten minutes later the Pumas employed a rolling maul again from a line-out close to the visitors line and it worked as Bothma this time controlled the ball for the Pumas fifth try of the evening. Roos again missed the conversion to leave the hosts leading by 38-6.
But the Leopards never gave up and replied with a try of their own immediately after that through Luther Obi. The right winger picked up the ball at the base of a ruck and simply sauntered over the line. Engelbrecht converted to narrow the gap to 25 points.
The Leopards then scored a wonderful consolation try through Jarryd Buys, who beat a few defenders to go in under the posts, with Engelbrecht adding the two points four minutes after the hooter had sounded.
The Leopards, who had lost the return match by only five points back in July, were their own worst enemy as they conceded too many turnovers, missed a third of their tackles and their handling was atrocious.
The Pumas now have 52 log points from 11 matches, a massive lead of 18 points over their nearest rivals, the SWD Eagles, and have all but cemented their place at the summit.
The Leopards on the other hand are in jeapardy of losing their grip on fourth position as they are only four points ahead of the Boland Cavaliers, who play the bottom-placed Falcons on Saturday.
Pumas - Tries: Trompie Pretorius, Coenie van Wyk, Rosco Speckman, Corne Steenkamp, Renaldo Bothma ; Conversions: JC Roos (2) ; Penalties: Roos (3)
Leopards - Tries: Luther Obi, Jarryd Buys; Conversions: Adriaan Engelbrecht (2); Penalties: Engelrecht (2)