Following their 33-26 midweek defeat to the Vodacom Bulls, the pressure was on Jimmy Stonehouse’s charges as a second loss to the Free Staters this season would see them drop out of the top four.
However, they controlled the catfight throughout, using one of their best weapons - their well-structured driving maul - to punish the Toyota Cheetahs, with evergreen hooker and Champion of the Match Simon Westraadt scoring a brace.
The New Nation Pumas had the lion’s share of possession and although they could never pull as clear as they would’ve liked, the victory was an all-important one as they remained in third position.
The visitors were their own worst enemies, making basic mistakes, having a major malfunction at lineout time and giving away far too many penalties. Their indiscipline cost them two yellow cards plus a penalty try and ultimately signalled the end of their semi-final hopes.
The New Nation Pumas went to their dominant driving maul early to draw first blood as Westraadt scored an unconverted try five minutes into the match.
The forward pack of the New Nation Pumas continued their strong start by winning a scrum penalty, which took them back into the attacking 22, where the visitors were caught offside and Eddie Fouché kicked a straightforward penalty goal from right in front of the posts.
Basic mistakes and indiscipline continued to hamper the Toyota Cheetahs and a seventh penalty in the first quarter allowed the home team to launch another attack. A textbook turnover from Junior Pokomela, however, relieved the pressure. It was short-lived as Fouché stretched the scoreline to 11-0 in the 24th minute after Aidon Davis failed to roll away.
The Toyota Cheetahs finally got a bit of rhythm and a strong carry by David Brits provided the go-forward that led to an easy run in for Victor Sekekete. Captain Ruan Pienaar, playing in the No 10 jersey instead of in his usual role of scrumhalf, added the conversion.
The visitors then suffered a setback as they lost tighthead Aranos Coetzee to a yellow card for a dangerous tackle on Etienne Taljaard in the 31st minute. It led to inspired defence by the outmanned Toyota Cheetahs, which they turned into attack, but the New Nation Pumas stood up when it mattered most as they won a vital scrum penalty on their 5m line.
They went on to finish the half on a perfect note with Westraadt going over for his second try, a carbon copy of the first, with Fouché turning it into a seven-pointer to give the hosts an 18-7 lead at half-time.
Back to 15 men, the Toyota Cheetahs were under immense pressure at the start of the second stanza but showed character to keep out the hosts, stopping their driving maul and forcing a knock-on to stay in the contest.
The catfight turned scrappy for most of the third quarter as mistakes from both teams dragged the tempo down. The first points of the half came on the hour-mark, Fouché slotting a third penalty goal to leave the Toyota Cheetahs with everything to do as they trailed by 14.
Hawies Fourie’s men responded by giving the hosts a dose of their own medicine, driving the ball up some 18 metres for replacement Andisa Ntsila to dot down in the right-hand corner. Pienaar’s excellent conversion made it 21-14 with 15 minutes remaining.
Just two minutes later, they well and truly shot themselves in the foot. Wing Duncan Saal saw yellow for not rolling away and immediately afterwards, they conceded a penalty try and were down to 13 as try-scorer Ntsila was sent to the bin for sacking the driving maul.
When Willie Engelbrecht was yellow-carded for a breakdown infringement, Clayton Blommetjies scored with five minutes remaining, but Brandon Thomson missed the conversion and any chance of a possible comeback of some kind went out of the window.
Replacement Niel Otto cantered over from the restart, however, the try was disallowed due to an illegal challenge on Blommetjies in the air. As a result, the New Nation Pumas missed out on a bonus point try but they nevertheless claimed a crucial win, their first over the Free Staters since 2018.
New Nation Pumas 28 (18) – Tries: Simon Westraadt (2), Penalty try. Conversion: Eddie Fouché. Penalty goals: Fouché (3).
Toyota Cheetahs 19 (7) – Tries: Victor Sekekete, Andisa Ntsila, Clayton Blommetjies. Conversions: Ruan Pienaar (2).