Jimmy Stonehouse (Gallo Images)
- Pumas coach Jimmy Stonehouse held back tears after his troops’ fantastic second half against the Bulls at Loftus.
- Adding emotion is the fact that he once again had to tell his happy, dedicated group of players that they are worthy of competing at this level.
- Stonehouse paid tribute to the passion for No. 8 Willie Engelbrecht, who was outstanding despite the tragedy of his father’s death hours before the start.
Jimmy Stonehouse was so proud of his Puma’s second half against Super Rugby Unlocked champions Bulls on Saturday that he attended his media conference after the match visibly teary-eyed.
The Lowvelders were truly a team that was transformed during the last 40 minutes of the grueling match at Loftus – which ended 21-5 in the host’s favor – as they kept Jake White’s troops scoreless while making a well-executed own attempt.
“Getting out for the second half and just putting them on with everything we had was one of the most amazing things I’ve seen in a long time,” said Stonehouse, clearly holding back more tears.
Puma’s director of rugby made no secret of the emotions involved in that show.
After falling behind 21-0 at half-time, he admitted that his players were close to despair and full of self-doubt, an understandable response to a campaign that has been high on commitment and low on reward.
“You know what, you’re constantly ‘fighting’ with the players and trying to consistently show them that they can do this. They can compete at this level,” Stonehouse said.
“It’s hard to be a so-called smaller team. You get these things where you regularly have to prove to the players that they are better than they really think they are. Sometimes it’s tough.
“When I was standing in that changing room at half-time and listening to what the players were saying, I immediately said to them, ‘Guys, it’s scary what I hear you say.'” Sometimes the things that are said in half-time conversations are not pleasant to hear.
“But boy, did they answer fantastically.”
One of the more impressive sights was the Pumas package which went up to its famous counterparts and undoubtedly ended marginally at the top at the end of the procedure.
“We definitely take a lot of heart from the second half before the Currie Cup,” said Stonehouse.
Yet no man exemplified Puma’s spirit better than No. 8 Willie Engelbrecht.
The 28-year-old bravely decided to still participate just hours after tragically losing his father and former stallwart at Bulls club rugby, Buks, in a car accident on Friday night.
And his show radiated passion when he especially left Bulls star Arno Botha amazed with a huge collision and hand-off.
“Willie plays this type of rugby week in and week out. It’s incredible to see him behave this way,” said Stonehouse.
“We have worked hard over the last two weeks to channel this aggression positively and without allowing penalties. He is doing well.
“His decision to play was frankly inspiring. I’m pretty sure he said to his day today, ‘Dad, I hope you’re proud of what you saw.'”