Two tries in the final 15 minutes saw the Pumas fight back from a five-point deficit to edge the Golden Lions 43-36 in a high-scoring encounter at the Mbombela Stadium on Sunday.
The Pumas outscored their opponents six tries - three in each half - to five in a match where the lead exchanged hands on numerous occasions.
The Pumas held a seven-point lead at the half-time break before seeing that lead become a five-point deficit with 19 minutes to play. However, they dug deep to score 12 unanswered points in the closing stages of the encounter to get their campaign off to the perfect start.
Despite the defeat, the Golden Lions walked away with two bonus points, one for scoring a minimum of four tries and the other for losing within seven points.
Pumas did the early running and tested the Golden Lions' defence. A late tackle just outside the Lions' 22 handed Justin van Staden a chance to open the scoring and he did just that as he slotted his first kick at goal to hand the Pumas a 3-0 lead after four minutes.
The Lions hit back straight away as Nicolaas Hanekom broke through the Pumas defence and raced away to towards the line. He was tackled just short of the line but his momentum took him over to score the opening try of the game. Shaun Reynolds added the extras to hand the Golden Lions a 7-3 lead after six minutes.
Jeremy Jordaan forced a turnover from the kick-off and the Pumas went on the attack. They bashed away at the Lions' defence and came within inches before fullback Gerrit Smith came charging onto a short pass to power over. Van Staden added the extras to ensure a 10-7 lead after eight minutes.
Back came the Lions though as they maintained possession to launch an attack. The Pumas were pinned at the breakdown for not rolling away and Reynolds obliged by slotting his first penalty of the match to level matters at 10-10 after 12 minutes.
Reynolds was in the thick of things shortly afterwards as the Lions went on another attack. They got into the Pumas' 22 and a recycled ball has passed to Reynolds, who stepped past three defenders to go over and score his first tournament try. He popped over the conversion to hand the Lions a 17-7 lead after 15 minutes.
The see-saw nature of the opening exchanges continued as the Pumas gained the next spell of ascendancy. They made their way up the field and placed plenty of pressure on the Lions' defensive line inside their 22. After a number of phases, they sent a long pass wide where flank Nardus van der Walt was waiting to score unopposed.
Van Staden added the tricky conversion to level matters at 17-17 after 20 minutes.
It became an arm-wrestle from that point with possession exchanging hands with regularity over the next 10 minutes. The Lions' defensive discipline was taking strain at this point and the Pumas took full advantage. Some strong carries got them into the Loins' five-metre line before Francois Kleinhans showed his power to crash through and dot down.
Van Staden maintained his 100 percent kicking record to stretch the home side's lead to 24-17 after 35 minutes.
The Pumas maintained that seven point lead at half-time.
The Golden Lions came out strong and launched an attack from the kick-off. They took the ball through the phases that culminated in a maul after replacement scrumhalf Bradley Thain sniped around the fringe. The maul forced its way over the Pumas' try line for the first points of the second half.
Reynolds was once again successful with his conversion to level the score at 24-24 after 43 minutes.
The Golden Lions were in control from that point and things got worse for the Pumas in the 51st minute when Jerome Pretorius was shown a yellow card for an early tackle close to his try line. Fortunately for the Pumas, he did not impede a try-scoring chance and no further sanction was imposed.
Despite being a man down, a quickly taken penalty by scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer got them on the front foot as he set off on a weaving run. They kept the ball alive with numerous offloads and the attack was rounded off by Van Staden who rounded off the flowing move.
He popped over the easy conversion to take a 31-24 lead after 55 minutes.
The Lions hit back from the restart though as they secured the kick-off before sending the ball through the hands. The final pass found Aphiwe Dyantyi and the wing went racing down the touchline to score in the corner. Reynolds failed to add the conversion as the Golden Lions trailed 29-31 after 57 minutes.
The Lions regained the lead just after the hour mark when fullback Ashlon Davids launched an attack. After a few phases, Davids sent Dyanti into a gap down the touchline before receiving the final pass to add his name to the scorers' list. Reynolds added the extras to hand the Lions a 36-31 lead after 61 minutes.
Back came the Pumas though as some excellent straight running by captain Hennie Skorbinski, saw him get on the outside of Hanekom - breaking his tackle - before racing away. Van Staden made sure of the conversion to take a 38-36 lead after 66 minutes.
Another Ungerer break got the Pumas on the front foot and had the Lions defence scrambling. A cross-kick by Van Staden beat Davids and the bounce favoured Smith, who leapt high to gather and came down inside the try zone to score his second try of the game. Van Staden could not convert though but the Pumas' lead was stretched to 43-36 after 68 minutes.
The match remained in the balance as we entered the final 10 minutes and Van Staden could have put the result to bed in the 79th minute but he failed to slot a tricky penalty. The Lions knocked the ball on from that miss though to allow the Pumas to run the clock down and end the game.
Man of the match: Shaun Reynolds kept the Lions in touch with the Pumas with some strong carries, good decision making and an overall steady game with ball-in-hand and with the kicking boot. Ryan Kankowski will be satisfied with his performance as he carried strongly and tackled hard and Aphiwe Dyanti was dangerous when he was put into space. The Pumas scrum was dominant throughout the encounter while Gerrit Smith showed how dangerous he can be with ball-in-hand, not to mention his athleticism to score his second try. Justin van Staden controlled matters well from flyhalf but our award goes to scrumhalf Stefan Ungerer, whose quick thinking got his side on the front foot on numerous occasions that eventually led to tries being scored.
For the Pumas:
Tries: Smith 2, Van der Walt, Kleinhans, Van Staden, Skorbinski
Cons: Van Staden 5
Pen: Van Staden
For the Golden Lions:
Tries: Hanekom, Reynolds, Thain, Dyantyi, Davids
Cons: Reynolds 4
Yellow card: Jerome Pretorius (Pumas, 51; foul play - early tackle)
Pumas: 15 Gerrit Smith, 14 Jerome Pretorius, 13 Hennie Skorbinski (captain), 12 Ryan Nell, 11 Ruwellyn Isbell, 10 Justin van Staden, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Carel Greeff, 7 Nardus van der Walt, 6 Francois Kleinhans, 5 Hugo Kloppers, 4 Jeremy Jordaan, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Mark Pretorius, 1 Mona Kwezi.
Replacements: 16 Frank Herne, 17 De-Jay Terblanche, 18 Marne Coetzee, 19 Jannie Stander, 20 Lambert Groenewald, 21 Reynier van Rooyen, 22 Sias Ebersohn.
Golden Lions: 15 Ashlon Davids, 14 Madosh Tambwe, 13 Nicolaas Hanekom, 12 Jarryd Sage, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Shaun Reynolds, 9 Marco Jansen van Vuren, 8 Ryan Kankowski (captain), 7 Jano Venter, 6 James Venter, 5 Rhyno Herbst, 4 Marvin Orie, 3 Andrew Beerwinkel, 2 Pieter Jansen, 1 Sithembiso Sithole.
Replacements: 16 Mike Willemse, 17 Nico du Plessis, 18 Bobby de Wee, 19 Hacjivah Dayimani, 20 Fabian Booysen, 21 Bradley Thain, 22 Jan-Louis la Grange.
Referee: Stuart Berry
Assistant referees: Ricus van der Hoven & Marnus Meiring
TMO: Willie Vos