The Eastern Cape is an untapped gold mine of South African rugby talent and is arguably the most rugby mad province in the country. Hence, why the creation of the Southern Kings was such an important step for SA rugby.
But after their re-introduction to Super Rugby, that massive potential is not being met. The Kings have won just two games and have recorded some dreadfully unflattering defeats. While we shouldn’t forget the Lions lost every game of the season in 2010, showing that teams can turn it around, the Kings need to become slicker at helping along the conveyor belt of players in the province to the higher echelons of the sport.
How do the Kings establish themselves as a competitive Super Rugby team?
First of all they need to stop leaking players. Inspirational captain Steven Sykes as well as Shane Gates, Jacobie Adriaanse and Aidon Davis have all confirmed moves away from the club. And the franchise has already lost rising stars like Luther Obi, Lizo Gqoboka and Curwin Bosch.
But with unpaid salaries – before SARU intervened – and what seems like a volatile working environment, we can’t lay blame on the athletes. Finding greener pastures makes sense. Their profession lasts a maximum of fifteen years.
Retaining experienced is invaluable in order to blood young players. With rugby factories like Dale College, Grey High School and Queens College at the Kings’ disposal, there is a pipeline of budding, raw talent. But there needs to be some experience within the side to provide guidance to the youngsters coming through.
Signing home-grown talent should be their top priority. There is a long list of Springboks that learnt their trade in the Eastern Cape. The Ndungane twins, Siya Kolisi, Jacques Potgieter, Jan Serfontein, Lwazi Mvovo, Sergeal Petersen and JJ Engelbrecht to name but a few. Senior players like these, who are so well respected, should be brought back. It would make the Kings more competitive, while the star power will bring the short-lived Kings’ faithful back to Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
Which brings me to my next point. The Kings need to reinvigorate their fandom in Port Elizabeth. In the Kings’ first ever game in Super Rugby against the Western Force, their victory was witnessed by 32 000 spectators. Now the Kings seem to struggle to fill one half of the stands.
Displaying the enormous wealth of black talent in the province is also on the Kings’ shoulders. The Eastern Cape is the only area of South Africa where rugby competes with football as the dominant sport. And this isn’t a recent occurrence. Predominantly black clubs date back over a century, and not just one or two, but hundreds. With the Kings as their vessel, black rugby players finally have an avenue to the top which they have been denied for far too long.
The Kings also need to rediscover their defensive aptitude they displayed in 2013. Omar Mouneimne was the Kings defensive coach then, when they could be proud of a strong defensive record. Right now, the Kings are statistically the least capable defensive outfit as they have missed the most tackles in 2016.
The Kings’ Super Rugby future is bright despite their current shortcomings. They have been plagued by mismanagement, a player exodus and uncertainty. But they finally have their rightful place at the highest level of club rugby. If the Lions can go from worst to first, then the Kings can too.
(Also, they need a new jersey. You can’t strike fear in the enemy when you look like a children’s party jester.)