Coach Jimmy Stonehouse is relishing the opportunity for when the Pumas lock horns with Currie Cup teams bolstered by Vodacom United Rugby Championship talent.
The defending Currie Cup champions have accumulated 29 log points after seven rounds, and have opened a narrow three-point gap at the summit on the second-placed Free State Cheetahs before this weekend’s action.
Stonehouse’s charges made a massive statement in 2023 when they laid waste to the Vodacom Bulls in their opening round clash at Loftus Versfeld, before claiming huge wins against the Cheetahs and Griffons on the road.
In a wide-ranging interview with Sport24 during which he touched on the Pumas’ struggles to compete internationally and attract a headline sponsor, the 59-year-old former bodybuilder expects the coming weeks to become more challenging for his troops as the bigger unions introduce their URC players into rugby’s oldest competition.
“The second half of this campaign will definitely be harder. We’re in no denial about that,” he said. “The positive thing is that we’ve taken close to full advantage of what has been in front of us, and we can still improve a lot.
“There was a lot said about how we started this campaign, winning 63-15 against the Bulls in our opener at Loftus. We heard the arguments that it wasn’t the Bulls’ first-choice team, but that match squad had 19 players with URC experience in it [as well as six Springboks].
“I believe we deserve credit for that performance, but we also maintained a healthy perspective. Everything went right for us that afternoon, but we knew the shoe could easily have been on the other foot.
“On another day, the Bulls might beat us by 50. The key for us is to stay focused, to strive for improvement and elevate our game from the base we’ve established.
“Playing against stronger opposition from now on should inspire us. The only way we’ll get better is to test ourselves against these guys.”