The Steval Pumas clinched the Absa Currie Cup First Division title in fine style with a 53-30 (halftime 19-9) win over the EP Kings in the final at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on Friday.
The Pumas were full value for their win as they ran in six tries to three as they continued their wonderful form to end the Currie Cup season unbeaten after winning all their matches during the league phase of the competition.
The hosts pocketed R1 million for winning the First Division while they also secured their place in the promotion/relegation series for a chance to play in the Premier Division next season.
Fullback Coenie van Wyk ran in a hat-trick of tries for the home team while flyhalf Carl Bezuidenhout kicked 19 points courtesy of two conversions and five penalties.
Both teams showed a willingness to run the ball from early on in the contest with the Pumas using the width of the field while the Kings were a touch more direct.
Pumas flyhalf Carl Bezuidenhout and EP fullback Scott van Breda traded early penalties before the hosts grabbed the first try of the match in the 17th minute.
The home team took the ball through seven phases before Bezuidenhout flung a huge skip pass to find No 8 RW Kember on the outside with the big loose forward crossing in the left-hand corner.
The Pumas were playing some irresistible rugby and they stretched their lead to 13-3 after 24 minutes with a wonderful long-range score.
The hosts capitalised on a turnover on their own 22-metre line with left wing Rosko Speckman cutting in off his wing to carry the ball strongly up to the half-way line before off-loading to fullback Coenie van Wyk who showed a superb turn of pace to outsprint the defence on his way to the tryline.
Van Breda and Bezuidenhout then kicked two penalties apiece as the Pumas went to the break holding a 19-9 lead.
The Pumas extended their lead just six minutes after the restart after they poached a line-out ball on the Kings’ 10-metre line. The ball was shifted to inside centre Stefan Watermeyer who split the defence before popping an inside pass to Van Wyk who dived over for a converted try.
EP did not give up and, in the 54th minute, replacement flyhalf Ntabeni Dukisa wriggled his way over from close range for a converted try to narrow the gap to 29-16.
But the Pumas were not to be denied and a Bezuidenhout penalty and a 66th minute try from right wing JW Bell, after some excellent interplay between backs and forwards, wrapped the match up.
The Pumas were reduced to 14 men when replacement forward Lubabalo Mtyanda was yellow-carded, in the 70th minute, after repeated infringements by the hosts at the breakdown.
Less than two minutes later the Pumas were down to 13 men when forward Christo le Roux was also yellow-carded for a trip on hooker Hannes Franklin when the front-row forward was on his way to a try.
Le Roux’s trip resulted in a penalty try with Van Breda’s conversion making the score 39-23 but with less than five minutes left in the match Van Wyk slipped over for his hat-trick try to make light of the Pumas’ numerical disadvantage.
With two minutes left in the game flank Renaldo Bothma rounded off a superb length of the field try to cap a fine team performance despite a late consolation try for EP through replacement scrumhalf Kayle van Zyl.
STEVAL PUMAS – Tries: RW Kember, Coenie van Wyk (3), JW Bell, Renaldo Bothma; Conversions: Carl Bezuidenhout (2), JC Roos (2); Penalties: Bezuidenhout (5).
EP KINGS – Try: Ntabeni Dukisa, Penalty Try, Kayle van Zyl; Conversions: Scott van Breda (3); Penalties: Van Breda (3).