The Pumas saw red and the Vodacom Bulls responded with 19 unanswered points in the second half to complete a thrilling comeback in a Currie Cup match at Loftus Versfeld on Friday night.
Despite a hat-trick of tries from Pumas winger Sebastian de Klerk, the Currie Cup leaders retained their place with a 31-26 victory against the 14-man Pumas in a match that shared the spotlight with the referee.
Marius van der Westhuizen ended the first quarter by yellow-carding De Klerk for infringing at the maul and awarded the Bulls a penalty try.
And then, shortly after De Klerk’s return, Pumas flyhalf Tinus de Beer was red-carded for a dangerous tackle on Bulls wing Richard Kriel. Winger Tapira Mafuwa was the third Pumas player to be sent off, this time a yellow for a mid-air collision with Kriel as both players were contesting a high kick.
And with two minutes to go, Van der Westhuizen gave Bulls replacement flyhalf Juan Mostert a 10-minute break for a professional foul.
Trailing 26-12 at the interval, tries from the Bulls’ latest recruit Ruan Vermaak and wing David Kriel, along with points off the boot of flyhalf Morne Steyn, earned the home side a much-needed victory to stay ahead of the chasing Cheetahs, who will have one game in hand after they play Griquas on Saturday.
The Pumas were first to get the scoreboard ticking after two quickfire tries for De Klerk, before the hosts were rewarded with a penalty try in the 17th minute. But it wasn’t long before the visitors extended their lead again as scrumhalf Chriswill September crossed over and Eddie Fouche converted.
Kriel finished off some great interplay with his brother Richard, and the Pumas were down to 14 men after De Beer was shown red. But the men from Nelspruit took the lead into half time after De Klerk charged down a Richard Kriel kick to complete his hat-trick.
Fouche and Steyn contributed six and two points from the kicking tee respectively.
Vermaak barged over for the first points of the second half, before James Verity-Amm and David Kriel then dotted down, and Steyn added the extras to push the hosts in front for the first time in the match.
Mafura and Mostert were both sent to the naughty chair as the match entered the final 10 minutes, with the hosts doing enough to hold on for victory.