Ahead of the 2017 season we take a closer look at each of the 18 teams participating in this year’s tournament. Next up, the Southern Kings.
The Southern Kings will need to use this season to put their off-field dramas behind them and focus on becoming an established Super Rugby side rather than just making up the numbers.
Last year: The Kings did not fare well last season after winning only two games, and those victories came against fellow Super Rugby new-boys the Sunwolves and the Jaguares. The victory against the Jaguares was also marred considering the Argentines played with 13 men for most of the game. The Kings never lacked heart throughout the season but couldn’t get a run of form going and conceded some heavy losses including a 53-0 defeat to the Sharks and 73-27 negative at the Jaguares.
Their prospects weren’t helped by being placed in the Africa 2 Conference where they were pitted against the New Zealand Super Rugby franchises in the Kings’ first year back. The New Zealand sides were on some serious form last season and the men from Port Elizabeth could not handle the intensity.
In all fairness though, the financial difficulties of the franchise seeped into the team’s performance after not being able to get a full-on sponsor on board. They could not get any momentum going as they started their pre-season incredibly late compared to the other franchises, giving them a setback from the very beginning. And to boot because of a lack of money in the kitty the Kings could not hang onto their high-profile players from their more successful 2013 year.
The dedication of the players and coaching staff could not be questioned though as their passion was palpable, but they just could not compete with the much richer and more financially stable Super Rugby sides.
This year: With some retained names in their squad and new faces in the coaching staff the Kings should have a better third season in Super Rugby. They were able to keep hold of some strong talent such as loose-forwards CJ Velleman and Thembelani Bholi as well as Wandile Mjekevu. Their coaching staff looks far more settled as well with former Sevens coach Vuyo Zangqa taking over the backline, former Springbok lock Barend Pieterse keeps control of the forwards while Deon Davids remains at the helm.
They made some good signings before the season considering their financial strife. In the forwards they have some talented rookies in SA U20 hooker Tango Balekile and former Bulls prop Dayan van der Westhuizen, while signing some older heads in former Highlanders prop Ross Geldenhuys and SWD Eagles hooker Kurt Haupt is good business. In the backline Namibia and South African internationals Chrysander Botha and Louis Schreuder should provide an impact.
The Kings’ fixture list might be their greatest enemy this season. The games they could have a chance at winning like against the Sunwolves, Reds and Force are all played away from Port Elizabeth while all their more difficult games are played at home.
Key players: Ball-poaching mastermind CJ Velleman remains an all-star within the Kings camp and after much interest from overseas the Kings were able to ward off the vultures. His influence at ruck time will be crucial. The leadership of Schalk Ferreira will provide the Kings with some much-needed stability while the attacking acumen of Wandile Mjekevu will be vital to the Kings’ cause.
Players to watch: The Kings harbour some fantastic attacking talent in the backline that should buoy their attacking prospects. The fleet-footed Malcolm Jaer produced some glitzy moments with ball in hand last year even with a forward pack going backwards and should show much of the same in 2017. Recent signing Louis Schreuder is a man to watch as his experience after 66 caps in Super Rugby should give the Kings a level head in the crunch moments while their defensive line management should improve with Chrysander Botha added to the mix.
Prospects: They don’t have any real prospects at claiming silverware this season as their main aim will be to establish themselves in the competition as valued members and not just easy table points for their competitors. If they produce a good run overseas and win some key games at home they could improve their points tally from last year and once again avoid the wooden spoon tag.
Players In: Justin Forwood (Eastern Province Kings), Ross Geldenhuys (Highlanders), Chris Heiberg (Force), Schalk van der Merwe (Montpellier), Dayan van der Westhuizen (Blue Bulls), Tango Balekile (Eastern Province Kings), Kurt Haupt (SWD Eagles), Mike Willemse (Stormers), Irné Herbst (Bulls), Cameron Lindsay (unattached), Wandile Putuma (Griquas), Mzwanele Zito (Griquas), Christiaan de Bruin (Eastern Province Kings), Ruaan Lerm (Lions), Louis Schreuder (Stormers), Ricky Schroeder (Eastern Province Kings), Johan Steyn SWD (Eagles), Rudi van Rooyen (Griquas), Coyi Banda Border Bulldogs), Lionel Cronjé (unattached), Pieter-Steyn de Wet (Eastern Province Kings), Garrick Mattheus (Eastern Province Kings), Berton Klaasen (Eastern Province Kings), Neil Maritz (Sharks), Waylon Murray (Eastern Province Kings), Alshaun Bock (Griquas), Makazole Mapimpi Border Bulldogs), Yaw Penxe (Eastern Province Kings), Chrysander Botha (Namibia Welwitschias), Ntabeni Dukisa (Griquas), Johann Tromp (Eastern Province Kings)
Players Out: Justin Ackerman (Golden Lions), Jacobie Adriaanse (Bulls), Louis Albertse (Pumas), Tom Botha (Cheetahs), Liam Hendricks (Griquas), Sti Sithole (Lions), Vukile Sofisa (released), Martin Ferreira (Western Province), Edgar Marutlulle (Bulls), JC Astle (Mont-de-Marsan), Philip du Preez (Mont-de-Marsan), Tazz Fuzani (Pumas), Cornell Hess (released), Schalk Oelofse (Mont-de-Marsan), Steven Sykes (Oyonnax), JP Jonck (released), Aidon Davis (Toulon), Jacques Engelbrecht (Montauban), Junior Pokomela (Cheetahs), Leighn Eksteen (SWD Eagles), James Hall (Oyonnax), Ntando Kebe (Border Bulldogs), Kevin Luiters (Pumas), Louis Fouché (Kubota Spears), Dewald Human (Blue Bulls), Theuns Kotzé (Boland Cavaliers), Elgar Watts (Griquas), Lukhanyo Am (Sharks), JP du Plessis (released), Shane Gates (NTT Shining Arcs), Jeremy Ward (Sharks), Stefan Watermeyer (retired), Charles Radebe (SWD Eagles), Jaco van Tonder (Valpolicella), Jurgen Visser (NTT Docomo Red Hurricanes)
Saturday, February 25 v Jaguares (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
Saturday, March 4 v Sunwolves v Kings (Singapore National Stadium, Singapore)
Saturday, March 11 v Stormers (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
Saturday, March 18 v Sharks (Kings Park, Durban)
Saturday, 25 March v Lions (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
Round 6: BYE
Sunday, April 9 v Force (nib Stadium, Perth)
Saturday, April 15 v Reds (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)
Friday, April 21 v Waratahs (Allianz Stadium, Sydney)
Saturday, April 29 v Rebels (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
Round 11: BYE
Saturday, May 13 v Sharks (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
Saturday, May 20 v Brumbies (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)
Sunday, May 28 v Lions (Ellis Park, Johannesburg)
Friday, June 30 v Jaguares (Vélez Sarsfield, Buenos Aires)
Saturday, July 8 v Bulls (Loftus Versfeld, Pretoria)
Friday July 14 v Cheetahs (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth)