Preview: Kings v Highlanders

Date published: July 1 2016

1022.6666666666666x767__origin__0x0_lukhanyo_am_kings_v_cheetahs_2016_line_break

The Kings will want to make it two successive Super Rugby wins when they take on the Highlanders in Port Elizabeth on Saturday.

These two sides have only ever played each other once so the history factor is not so relevant for this match up. The Kings, however, will hope the previous scoreline, a 34-27 win, will hold some intimidatory gravity as the Highlanders travel to Port Elizabeth once again.

The Kings need this win to solidify themselves as worthy competitors in Super Rugby – they languish behind the Jaguares in Africa 2 and are tied on nine points with the Sunwolves in the overall Africa group. If they win they can hopefully leave the Japanese side behind while making valuable ground on the Jaguares.

The Highlanders find themselves in an awkward position on the table. They have gathered 38 points which would place them at the top of any other conference barring Africa 2 where the Lions have 42, yet unfortunately for them they play in the competitive New Zealand conference.

If they beat the Kings and the Hurricanes' hosting of the Blues doesn't go in their favour, the men from Dunedin could go third in the conference.

Highlanders head coach Jamie Joseph has chosen what looks like a B-team against the Kings as he rests his star players. He might regret such stark complacency as although the Kings have been largely toothless this season they have shown signs of some lethal attacking potential.

Kings coach Deon Davids meanwhile really wants his team to perform for their last game at home this season.

"This is our last home game of the season and we really want to go out there and give our all," he said.

"This is a special group of players, who play for each other and for the jersey week in and week out."

The last time the teams met: The Kings won 34-27 in an eight-try thriller at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth. The Kings were able to build up enough of a tally to thwart a comeback from the Highlanders. The Kings scored two tries through captain Luke Watson in the first-half, giving his side the psychological advantage going into the change rooms as they were ahead 20-17 up at half-time. After 70 minutes the Kings looked like the outright victors but the Highlanders still had some fight left in them and scored two tries in the last ten minutes through Shaun Treeby and Hosea Gear. Despite Watson’s double it was Demetri Catrakilis' heroics on the tee that was ultimately the difference as he overshadowed opposite number Colin Slade.

Players to watch: The Kings have no lack of pace in the back-line, but Lukhanyo Am adds some tact to his remarkable physical capabilities. The big centre-cum-wing has an astute eye for the line break as he showed during the SA 'A' series against the Saxons. He was especially brilliant against the Jaguares in their most recent game, beating two defenders and making 49 metres for his side. The return of CJ Velleman will be a boost to the men in red and black. The utility loose-forward has been one of the stand out pilferers in Super Rugby this season with 20 turnovers won before injury struck. 

The men from Dunedin have their own speedsters out wide. Matt Faddes has had an illustrious season so far, scoring six tries and gaining 555 metres for his side. In his last game for the Highlanders he was in spectacular form, making six tackles, beating two defenders and making three clean breaks. He's someone to keep your eye on. Watch out for Highlanders number eight Luke Whitelock too as he has been monstrous defensively this season. The loose forward made a whopping 18 tackles in his last game. As one of the more weathered players in a relatively inexperienced match-day team, expect him to put in a big performance.

Team news: Kings head coach Deon Davids has made four changes to his XV. In the backline Malcolm Jaer will add some energy to the attack as he starts at full-back in the place of concussed Jurgen Visser, while Elgar Watts will take over the ten jersey from Louis Fouche who provides cover on the bench. A knee injury means Thembelani Bholi will miss the rest of the competition. He is replaced by Stefan Willemse who will join Aidon Davis and star flanker CJ Velleman, who also comes back into the side from a long term injury. In the wake of Jacobie Adriaanse's calf injury, Tom Botha will start in the number three jersey. Sithembiso Sithole and Luzuko Vulindlu are on the bench. 

The Highlanders coaching staff have decided to rest four of their All Blacks for their game against the Kings. Ben Smith, Waisake Naholo, Elliot Dixon and Aaron Smith will all have a much deserved break after a three-Test series against Wales. In the forwards, Shane Christie will captain the men from Dunedin at openside flank, and will buckle down with Luke Whitelock who will play at number eight and Gareth Evans on the blindside. Mark Reddish will don the number four jersey and gain his 50th Super Rugby cap. With Aaron Smith watching from the stands, coach Jamie Joseph will blood scrum-halves Te Aihe Toma and Jamie Booth. The former will start in the number nine jersey while Booth will provide cover from the bench. Ryan Tongia will start in the 11 jersey with Jack Wilson at right wing with Matt Faddes covering the back field. Just in case things get hairy for the Dunedin side in Port Elizabth, they have a strong bench with Lima Sopoaga and Patrick Osborne to potentially save the day.

Form: The Kings have not been good this season. They have two wins to show after twelve games. In their last five matches they recorded some big losses, most notably a 53-0 thrashing in Durban at the hands of the Sharks. The men from Port Elizabeth are, however, coming off their second win when they edged the Jaguares 29-22 at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

The Highlanders had a mixed bag of results before the international window. They won three games out of five against some heavy hitters. They were victorious over the Brumbies, Chiefs and Crusaders consecutively but lost to the Sharks and were surprised by the Hurricanes 27-20 at home. 

Prediction: Despite the current title-holders fielding a borderline B side, they should have too much talent to pip the poultry Kings. Highlanders by 10. 

Previous results: 

2013: Kings won 34-27 in Port Elizabeth 

The teams: 

Kings: 15 Malcolm Jaer, 14 Lukhanyo Am, 13 Stefan Watermeyer, 12 Shane Gates, 11 Wandile Mjekevu, 10 Elgar Watts, 9 Ntando Kebe, 8 Aidon Davis, 7 Stefan Willemse, 6 CJ Velleman, 5 JC Astle, 4 Steven Sykes (C), 3 Tom Botha, 2 Edgar Marutlulle, 1 Schalk Ferreira
Replacements: 16 Martin Bezuidenhout, 17 Sti Sithole, 18 Justin Ackerman, 19 Schalk Oelofse, 20 Jacques Engelbrecht, 21 Kevin Luiters, 22 Louis Fouche, 23 Luzuko Vulindlu

Highlanders: 15 Matt Faddes, 14 Jack Wilson, 13 Jason Emery, 12 Rob Thompson, 11 Ryan Tongia, 10 Marty Banks, 9 Te Aihe Toma, 8 Luke Whitelock, 7 Shane Christie (captain), 6 Gareth Evans, 5 Tom Franklin, 4 Mark Reddish, 3 Josh Hohneck, 2 Ash Dixon, 1 Daniel Lienert-Brown.
Replacements: 16 Greg Pleasants-Tate, 17 Aki Seiuli, 18 Siosuia Halanukonuka, 19 Liam Squire, 20 Dan Pryor, 21 Jamie Booth, 22 Lima Sopoaga, 23. Patrick Osborne

Date: Saturday, July 2
Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Kick-off: 19:20 local (17:20 GMT)
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Jaco van Heerden (South Africa), Rodney Boneparte (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

COMMENTS