The Pumas kicked off their 2014 Currie Cup campaign with a shock 28-21 victory over the Free State Cheetahs at Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit.
The Cheetahs made the better start to the match but the Pumas came back in the second half and held on to beat the Bloemfontein side.
It took a controversial 66th-minute try by outside centre JW Jonker to seal the Pumas' victory, after eighthman Renaldo Bothma tapped a grubber from Stefan Watermeyer back infield even though his legs were on the touchline.
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 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.
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 effort with a third try four minutes later.
Jonker's try was awarded with the confirmation of the Television Match Official 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.
Final Score Mpumalanga Pumas 28 (15) Free State Cheetahs 21 (16)
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).
15 JW Bell, 14 Ruwellyn Isbell, 13 JW Jonker, 12 Stefan Watermeyer, 11 Rosco Spekman, 10 Justin van Staden, 9 Reynier van Rooyen, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Jaco Bouwer, 6 Corne Steenkamp (c), 5 Marius Coetzer, 4 Frikkie Spies, 3 Dejay Terblanche, 2 Francois du Toit, 1 Vincent Koch
Replacements : 16 Frankie Herne, 17 Corne Fourie, 18 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 19 Uzair Cassiem, 20 Sinoyuvo Nyoka, 21 JC Roos, 22 Jerome Pretorius
Free State Cheetahs
15 AJ Coertzen, 14 Ryno Benjamin, 13 Francois Venter, 12 Joubert Engelbrecht, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Willie du Plessis, 9 Sarel Pretorius, 8 Boom Prinsloo, 7 Neil Claasen, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Carl Wegner, 3 Luan de Bruin, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld (captain), 1 Kevin Stevens
Replacements : 16 Hercu Liebenburg, 17 Bees Roux, 18 Waltie Vermeulen, 19 Henco Venter, 20 Renier Botha, 21 Elgar Watts, 22 JP du Plessis