Kings relishing Lions challenge

Date published: July 25 2013

Kings boss Alan Solomons wants his team to live up to expectations in Friday's Super Rugby promotion/relegation play-off with the Lions.

Kings boss Alan Solomons wants his team to live up to expectations in Friday's Super Rugby promotion/relegation play-off with the Lions.

In what is being billed as their biggest challenge of the season, the teams clash at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, in Port Elizabeth, in the first of two legs, with a spot in next year's Super Rugby competition the prize.

The second leg will be played in Johannesburg on August 2 and the side with the most log points after the two games will join the remaining four South African franchises in the 2014 competition.

“This match is critical to both franchises because the consequences of these matches are extremely serious,” Solomons said ahead of the crunch encounter.

“The winners of these two matches remain in Super Rugby and the side that loses is out of Super Rugby.

“And you have to understand the consequences of not playing in Super Rugby, because there is no inspiration to retain young players and no top-class rugby for the public, so the consequences are dire.”

His words were echoed by Lions president Kevin de Klerk, who said it had become extremely difficult to retain sponsors and the fans' interest without the lure of Super Rugby.

The Kings suffered a blow when regular centre and captain Andries Strauss was ruled out of the promotion series, and was replaced by young midfielder Shane Gates, with lock Darron Nell taking over as skipper.

The Lions will be desperate to regain their Super Rugby status and have named an experienced line-up for the first encounter, with fly-half Elton Jantjies and lock Franco van der Merwe set to play key roles.

After seeing the Lions team, Solomons said he was expecting a massive test, but was up to the contest.

“There is no question that the Lions have got some really good players, but I do not think they are better than we are,” he added.

“I think this will be a tight affair that will turn on little things.”

Kings centre Ronnie Cooke said they were prepared for a running game from the Lions.

“Elton brings an x-factor to the game that will suit the Lions because they play a running game,” he explained.

“He could spark something for them.”

Both Solomons and Kings coach Matt Sexton said there was a feeling of excitement in the camp, but said they were concentrating on the basics and sticking largely to the game plan which had worked for them this season.

“I think the general feeling we have is excitement, it's a huge occasion, it's like a test match or world cup final,” Sexton revealed.

“The guys are looking forward to the occasion.”

The New Zealander said he did not want to give too much away about the game plan.

“You take each team on their merits and there are opportunities that will be presented during the match and we just need to capitalise on that,” said Sexton.

“The times where we have been successful on the score board are times where we've been very clinical in our approach.”