Super Rugby Preview: Kings

Date published: February 16 2016

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Before the start of Super Rugby 2016 we take a closer look at each of the sides in the competition. Next up, the Kings.

The Southern Kings make their return to Super Rugby after a three-year absence and they will do well if they manage to replicate their 2013 form when, despite finishing at the bottom of the overall table, they were competitive in most of their fixtures and finished with three victories and a draw from 16 matches.

Judging from happenings at the Port Elizabeth-based franchise in recent months they face an uphill battle, however.

There was major upheaval in the Kings camp during the latter stages of 2015 and preparations for their return have been hampered by a financial crisis which threatened to sabotage their upcoming campaign.

The financial crisis eventually resulted in the South African Rugby Union (SARU) taking charge of the franchise. SARU only appointed Deon Davids as the team's head coach for the 2016 season at the beginning of last December and when they announced their list of contracted players a surprise omission was the name of former Springbok back-row Luke Watson.

Prior to that, the Kings lost the services of key players in George Whitehead, Lizo Gqoboka, Tim Whitehead and Tim Agaba who, citing their unhappiness at the ongoing turmoil at the franchise, opted not to renew their contracts.

They also lost the services of centre Ronnie Cooke whose contract was terminated by the franchise due to their cash-flow problems.

This Year: The Kings will play in the Africa Two Conference, alongside the Lions, Sharks and Jaguares. A win in their opening fixture, at home against the Sharks, will be crucial as they then have a bye before facing the Chiefs at home, and both the Crusaders and Hurricanes away,in their next three matches.

The results against those New Zealand sides could determine their fortunes during the rest of the campaign as three losses in a row could become a habit in their remaining fixtures.

Because he was appointed so close to the tournament's start, head coach Davids is already under the cosh and Kings supporters will be hoping that he won't be playing catch-up throughout the season.

Davids will also be hoping to avoid injuries as there isn't much depth in his squad as his players have little or no Super Rugby experience.

His reserve strength especially offers little quality, when compared to other sides in the competition, as several players hail from Currie Cup strugglers like the Pumas and Griquas.

Key Players: Much will depend on the performances of the senior players in the squad with seasoned campaigners like Steven Sykes, Jacques Engelbrecht, Jacobie Adriaanse and Schalk Ferreira expected to lead the charge up front while, amongst the backs, Elgar Watts and Louis Fouche should play key roles as the playmakers.

The above mentioned players' experience – especially on the road – will be crucial if the Kings want to prove the naysayers wrong. Sykes is a fine line-out exponent and a seasoned campaigner who leads from the front.

Engelbrecht will be expected to get his team on the front-foot with his ball carrying ability while Adriaanse and Ferreira must anchor the scrum.

As the only two recognised fly-halves in the squad, there will be plenty of responsibility on Watts and Fouche's shoulders. They will be expected to steer what is already a shaky ship in a gruelling competition.

Players to Watch: Young number eight Aidon Davis is a real prospect who has represented South Africa with distinction at schoolboy and U20 level. A powerful runner, Davis played one match for the Kings during their 2013 campaign and will be keen to do well in 2016 after being sidelined for most of the 2015 due to a knee injury.

Also keep an eye on exciting utility back JP du Plessis who has been around the block, despite being only 24. After school, Du Plessis had a short spell in the NRL with the Sydney Roosters but he returned to the 15-man game in 2011 and has subsequently had stints with the Melbourne Rebels, Stormers, Cheetahs and Montpellier, before joining the Kings last year. A brilliant counter-attacker, who thrives in broken play, Du Plessis' skills should test opposing defences.

Prospects: With so much going on behind the scenes, it's difficult to see the Kings being competitive this season. They are expected to battle throughout and are serious challengers for the wooden spoon in the overall standings.

They will do well if they manage to win a couple of matches at home but it should be a long long slog, especially on the road.

Squad: Jacobie Adriaanse, Lukhanyo Am, Thembelani Bholi, Tom Botha, John-Charles, Chris Cloete, Aidon Davis, JP du Plessis, Phillip du Plessis, Leighton Eksteen, Jacques Engelbrecht, Martin Ferreira, Schalk Ferreira, Louis Fouche, Tazz Fuzani, Shane Gates, Siyanda Grey, James Hall, Cornell Hess, Malcolm Jaer, Kevin Luiters, Edgar Marutlulle, Schalk Oelofse, Tyler Paul, Sipato Junior Pokomela, Steven Sykes, Cyril-John Velleman, Jurgen Visser, Luzuko Vulindlu, Stefan Watermeyer, Elgar Watts, Stefan Willemse

Fixtures:

Sat, 27 February vs Sharks (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
Round 2: BYE
Sat, 12 March v Chiefs (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
Sat, 19 March v Crusaders (AMI Stadium, Christchurch)
Fri, 25 March v Hurricanes (Westpac Stadium, Wellington)
Sat 2, April v Sunwolves (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
Sat, 9 April v Bulls (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
Round 8: BYE
Sat, 23 April v Lions (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
Sat, 30 April v Jaguars (Estadio José Amalfitani, Buenos Aires)
Sat, 7 May v Blues (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
Sat, 14 May v Cheetahs (Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein)
Sat, 21 May v Sharks (Kings Park Stadium, Durban)
Fri, 27 May v Jaguars (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
Sat, 2 July v Highlanders (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
Fri, 8 July v Lions (Ellis Park Stadium, Johannesburg)
Sat, 16 July v Stormers (Newlands Stadium, Cape Town)

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