Pumas coach Stonehouse sounds ominous warning

Liam Del Carme Sports reporter
Marnus van der Merwe of the Cheetahs shields the ball from Pumas players in a ruck during the Currie Cup Premier Division final at Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on June 24 2023.
Marnus van der Merwe of the Cheetahs shields the ball from Pumas players in a ruck during the Currie Cup Premier Division final at Free State Stadium in Bloemfontein on June 24 2023.
Image: Johan Pretorius/Gallo Images

Jimmy Stonehouse sounded an ominous warning to rugby authorities after his Pumas team lost the Currie Cup final against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein on Saturday.

Stonehouse, who lauded his team's effort to reach a second consecutive final, believes sides like the Pumas and Griquas who don't have full franchise status need more game time in elevated company.

“If Griquas and the Pumas die there will be a lot of talent that dies with them,” Stonehouse warned after his team's 25-17 defeat.

“The advantage the Cheetahs have is they play in the EPCR [European Professional Club Rugby]. There's more pressure. That's what we are trying to get. Something to play [in].

“We need to breed more guys and send them to bigger unions and show the talent that we have in this country.”

Indeed, the Pumas' retention policy is perennially under siege as local and at times foreign teams raid their player ranks.

Stonehouse took it in his stride when asked if the team that reached this year's final can remain largely intact next season.

“We are going to start all over again. We're losing a prop to the Sharks, Tinus de Beer is going to Wales, Ali Mgijima to the Cheetahs, Diego Apollus is going to the Sharks, Sebastian de Klerk is going to the Bulls.

“We will always lose players. But we've planned for this.”

The coach will continue his perpetual rebuilding job in the knowledge the Pumas ran a team with a much larger budget close again.

The Pumas were unable to leave their fingerprint on a match in which they spent most of the time on the back foot. The Cheetahs were more alert and assertive in the areas that mattered.

The Cheetahs stole the march on them in the tight exchanges, they kept the heat on the visitors when they tried to exit and largely prevented them from deploying their dangerous transitional game.

Stonehouse, however, lamented the penalties they conceded, which served to stymie their attacking advances.

“You get out of your territory, get go-forward but then you concede penalty after penalty.

“You scrum, their loose head slips and the penalty is against you. It's those 50/50s that can go both ways but if you don't get it you don't get go-forward. We couldn't get out of our territory.

“That killed us, maybe our discipline wasn't good enough on the day.”

To clarify he later curiously observed: “We got the wrong penalties at the wrong time.”

He did, however, make a pointed reference to the way the Cheetahs' rush defence shut them down. “I almost said offside defence, their rush defence. Their line speed was just incredible. I've never seen this amazing defence. How you can do it every time and get away with it.”

Though disappointed at losing the final, Stonehouse reflected on a campaign in which the Pumas again showed their claws.

“Reaching a second final was amazing for us. We lost four guys last season. We got the injuries early in the season and that was a huge blow. To come back and play in the final is just amazing.”

The Pumas may have come up short in this final and they may lose players in the off season but captain Shane Kirkwood believes his team still has much to aspire to. He says taking a final to Mbombela would be their next objective.

“It is huge [to play in the final] the people don't back us to be here. No-one besides ourselves. We train hard and work hard. It's for the people of Mpumalanga. The Nelspruit people deserve it. It will be our goal.”