A try two minutes from time secured a 23-16 (halftime 6-10) victory for the Steval Pumas over the visiting Border Bulldogs at the Mbombela Stadium in a cold Nelspruit on Friday night, giving the home side their second consecutive victory in the Absa Currie Cup First Division.
The home side scored two tries through Corne Steenkamp and Jaco Bouwer with flyhalf Carl Bezuidenhout converting both tries and slotting three penalties, while the Bulldogs scored a try through hooker Dean Muir. Karlo Aspeling slotted three penalties and a conversion.
The Bulldogs, despite being on the backfoot for most of the opening exchanges, opened the scoring through Muir.
A box-kick from scrumhalf Sinovuya Nyoka bounced favourably for Chrislyn van Wyk, who offloaded in the tackle to Nyoka, who had followed up brilliantly. But the nuggety scrumhalf lost his footing close to the line, and Muir went over from the resulting ruck.
The Pumas eventually opened their account with a penalty from Bezuidenhout in the 29th minute, after the Bulldogs were penalised for being in front of the kicker. The Pumas decided against quite a few kickable opportunities in favour of kicking for touch.
This decision backfired on the home side as the Bulldogs regained their seven-point lead through Aspeling. The Pumas were penalised for obstructing a quick throw from the visitors, and Deon Scholtz should count himself fortunate not to have received a yellow card.
The Pumas reduced the deficit to four points on the stroke of halftime when Bezuidenhout slotted his second penalty.
The hosts, who had eight penalties awarded to them in the first half, which included a yellow card for Bulldogs lock Nomani Tonga for tackling the player without the ball, could not assert their dominance on the scoreboard.
Both teams struggled in the scrums on their own put-in, which resulted in the sides not gaining clean possession on their own throws. The Pumas started to assert themselves through their forwards, constantly utilising the driving maul from the lineouts.
The Bulldogs were penalised for entering the ruck from the side, and the Pumas kicked for touch. From the lineout, Bouwer controlled beautifully as he swivelled off the back of the maul to touch down close to the posts.
Bezuidenhout converted the try to level matters at 13-all, after Aspeling converted his second penalty 10 minutes into the second half.
Aspeling slotted his third penalty attempt to give the lead back to the visitors with just 14 minutes remaining, after the Pumas were penalised for playing the ball on the ground. But Bezuidenhout levelled matters once again with the boot just five minutes later.
The Pumas' forwards began to wear down their opponents as the second half wore on, and it told as the winning try was scored from a maul that began just inside the Bulldogs' half.
Substitute Corne Steenkamp controlled the ball excellently at the back of the rolling maul, that went left and right, gaining 40 metres.
The visitors had no answers in stopping the juggernaught as twice the referee lifted his arm for a penalty advantage.
The Bulldogs will feel that they almost snatched a winning draw from their away encounter, as the Pumas could not assert their dominance.
The Bulldogs have now suffered their second defeat, while the the hosts have now won two from two.
Pumas - Tries: Jaco Bouwer, Corne Steenkamp; Conversions: Carl Bezuidenhout (2); Penalties: Bezuidenhout (3).
Bulldogs - Try: Dean Muir; Conversion: Karlo Aspeling; Penalties: Aspeling (3).