Having traded wins and losses in their respective opening fixtures, both teams were determined to break out of 50% territory and it was the hosts’ powerful pack that primarily got them over the hump in a hard-fought affair played in perfect conditions.
The New Nation Pumas had undone much of their good work when they mentally clocked out in the final stages of the first half and tapered off again in the final quarter with Tafel Lager Griquas coming on strong. However, they stood up when it mattered most in the final five minutes to get back in the win column following their away loss to the Vodacom Bulls last week.
A fantastic jackal by New Nation Pumas flank Francois Kleinhans saw flyhalf Eddie Fouché open the scoring with a penalty goal in the seventh minute, with a high tackle by tighthead Ig Prinsloo allowing veteran Tafel Lager Griquas No 10 George Whitehead to level matters six minutes later.
Fullback Devon Williams found touch inside Tafel Lager Griquas’ 22, where a botched lineout led to centre Matt More breaking two tackles to score the first try, which Fouché converted. A lapse in concentration at the restart gave Tafel Lager Griquas an opportunity to hit right back but the home team stood firm and forced a knock-on out the visitors, which eventually enabled an under pressure Fouché to clear with a booming 50-metre touch finder.
The New Nation Pumas pack flexed their muscles as they won a scrum penalty to gain field position before they drove over from a lineout. Simon Westraadt, who went on to be named Champion of the Match, was the man to dot down to make it 15-3 with Fouché off-target this time around.
Unfazed, Tafel Lager Griquas turned the tables tremendously. Whitehead slotted back-to-back penalty goals, his forwards having landed a counter punch at scrum time before Etienne Taljaard was caught in front of the kicker, followed by Jay-Cee Nel picking Fouché’s pocket, the centre running in a converted intercept try to snatch a one-point lead for his team on the stroke of half-time.
After an expected stern talking to by coach Jimmy Stonehouse, the New Nation Pumas came out aggressively to start the second half and it took them just a minute to regain the lead through the boot of Fouché, with the flyhalf slotting a third penalty moments later to make it 21-16.
Turning the screws, the fired-up hosts sent Tafel Lager Griquas back at the rate of knots with a massive scrum that served as the prelude to another driving maul try for stalwart Westraadt. Fouché couldn’t add the extras but after 54 minutes, the New Nation Pumas had some breathing room at 26-16.
Instead of chasing the bonus point try, they were made to defend for their lives as Tafel Lager Griquas refused to lie down, with Whitehead making it a one-score game again after the New Nation Pumas conceded a soft offside penalty and then closed the gap to just four in the 67th minute after Dewald Maritz was blown up at scrum time.
The New Nation Pumas were noticeably rattled and when the visitors set up a lineout drive with five minutes to go, it looked as though the home team might let it slip. However, influential No 8 Willie Engelbrecht saved the day when he went through the middle of the maul and clamped onto the ball to force a turnover, with the pack then collectively coming to the fore once again to win a penalty from the ensuing scrum.
Working their way back into Tafel Lager Griquas’ 22, they had one last chance at a four-try bonus point as the visitors were penalised for holding on, but they settled for the four log points instead.
New Nation Pumas 26 (15) - Tries: Matt More, Simon Westraadt (2). Conversion: Eddie Fouche. Penalty goals: Fouche (3).
Tafel Lager Griquas 22 (16) - Try: Jay-Cee Nel. Conversion: George Whitehead. Penalty goals: Whitehead (5).