Even though Bothma, who was a rampaging ball-carrier throughout, was clearly in touch, the laws state that “a player in touch may kick or knock the ball, but not hold it, provided the ball has not crossed the plane of the touchline”.
The Cheetahs had only themselves to blame for their loss, however, as they failed to gain a platform up front and made a host of unforced errors.
The Pumas kept sustained pressure on the visitors through an excellent scrum and their abrasive defence.
The Free Staters opened the scoring in the fifth minute through a sustained attack started and ended by wing Rayno Benjamin, but the Pumas’ forwards quickly began to make their presence felt, dominating the scrums and harrying the Cheetahs at the breakdown.
Their first try came in the 20th minute as fullback JW Bell tapped a ruck penalty and darted through a gap left by lock Francois Uys, who was busy scuffling with another player.
Flyhalf Justin van Staden added the conversion to his earlier penalty and the Pumas were 10-7 up.
The Pumas scored their second try in the 32nd minute as flank Corne Steenkamp, the captain celebrating his 150th game, went over from a maul, but Free State flyhalf Willie du Plessis ensured the visitors were 16-15 up at the break with three penalties.
It could have been an even greater lead, were it not for the Pumas laying their bodies on the line in defence in the closing minutes of the first half.
The frustrated Cheetahs began to lose their discipline in the second half, with Van Staden punishing them for being offsides with a penalty and scrumhalf Sarel Pretorius joining the Pumas flyhalf, in the first half, in being yellow-carded for kicking the ball away after the whistle had blown.
A high tackle by lock Carl Wegner allowed Van Staden to kick another penalty and stretch the Pumas’ lead to 21-16 in the 62nd minute and the hard-working home side were then rewarded for their 100% effort with a third try four minutes later.
Jonker’s try was awarded with the confirmation of the TMO and the vagaries of the law were then further exposed shortly afterwards when Cheetahs wing Raymond Rhule had a try disallowed for his foot landing on the touchline while he was carrying the ball.
The Free Staters were awarded a scrum under the poles instead, from which Benjamin scored his second try, but the steeliness of the Pumas won out in the end as they ended the match by holding on to the ball for 15 phases.
The team promoted from the First Division were obviously worthy winners.
Mpumalanga Pumas – Tries: JW Bell, Corne Steenkamp, JW Jonker. Conversions: Justin van Staden (2). Penalties: Van Staden (3).
Free State Cheetahs – Tries: Rayno Benjamin (2). Conversion: Willie du Plessis. Penalties: Du Plessis (3).