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Polished Pumas bully baby Bulls

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For Jake White it would have been a worthwhile exercise to test his squad depth and expose a number of his Under-21 stars to senior rugby, in case they are required in the play-offs.

Devon Williams of the Pumas runs with the ball during their Currie Cup match against the Bulls at Mbombela Stadium in Mbombela on Sunday. Photo: Dirk Kotze/Gallo Images via BackpagePix

CAPE TOWN – THIS season has been a long, hard slog for the Pumas, but they finished the Currie Cup in style by dispatching a young Bulls outfit 44-14 at the Mbombela Stadium yesterday.

Flyhalf Devon Williams grabbed a brace in an enterprising display by the home side, who scored six tries to the two of the visitors.

Coach Jimmy Stonehouse has lamented the number of close defeats this season, with the one against the Stormers/Western Province in Mbombela probably hurting the most.

So, while Jake White fielded an inexperienced side filled with Under-21 players, with just two regular starters in Ivan van Zyl and Morné Steyn, the Pumas can take great heart from their performance, with their two previous victories having both come against Griquas.

Their forwards dominated the Bulls from the outset in the scrums, where Morgan Naude in particular gave youngster Jan-Hendrik Wessels – normally a loosehead who was wearing the No 3 jersey – a hard time in the set-piece.

The bigger and more streetwise Pumas pack won the collisions as well, imposing themselves with force at the breakdowns and in defence.

That kind of ascendancy flowed into confidence on attack, where Williams ran the show with aplomb. Usually a fullback, the former Western Province speedster varied his play cleverly, and used his pace to good effect.

The Pumas scored five tries by the 26th minute already, with Luther Obi, Etienne Taljaard, Williams, Willie Engelbrecht and Daniel Maartens all crossing the line.

At 31-0 down, it was a long road back for the Bulls, but despite back-pedalling in the physical battle, they did produce a try of their own, with hooker Joe van Zyl going over from a five-metre lineout drive.

Scrumhalf Ginter Smuts kept the scoreboard ticking over with penalties either side of halftime to stretch the lead to 37-7, and even when the Bulls threatened to launch a comeback after a well-taken try by centre Dawid Kellerman, the result was never in doubt.

Williams, having scored his first try with a superb chip-and-chase solo effort, grabbed his second in the final quarter to secure the victory.

For White, though, it would have been a worthwhile exercise to test his squad depth and expose a number of his Under-21 stars – who won their national age-group title last year – to senior rugby, in case they are required in the play-offs.

With the forwards on the back foot throughout, it was tough for the likes of exciting backs such as Kellerman, Stravino Jacobs and Jade Stighling to showcase their talent, with the team lacking in cohesion as a unit.

But all that matters for the Pretoria union is that they topped the overall log, and now have a home semi-final against the Lions at Loftus Versfeld to prepare for on January 23.

White will hope that his top players recover in time or do not contract Covid-19 over the next two weeks, and that there are no injuries from the Pumas game.

POINTS-SCORERS

Pumas 44 – Tries: Luther Obi, Etienne Taljaard, Devon Williams (2), Willie Engelbrecht, Daniel Maartens. Conversions: Ginter Smuts (4). Penalties: Smuts (2).

Bulls 14 – Tries: Joe van Zyl, Dawid Kellerman. Conversions: Morné Steyn (1), Clinton Swart (1).

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