Super Rugby preview: The Kings

Date published: February 13 2013

With the new Super Rugby season looming large on the horizon we take a look at each of the 15 competitors. First up, the Kings!

With the new Super Rugby season looming large on the horizon we take a look at each of the 15 competitors. First up, the Kings!

2013 is set to be a long, tough debut season for the newest, and most controversial, addition to Super Rugby. Doubters have been proved wrong before, but don't bet your house on the Kings winning any trophies.

Last Year: The Kings weren't part of the 2012 season but they were never far from the headlines. Eventually SARU were forced to make good on their promises to the South African government that the Eastern Cape would get a Super Rugby franchise, and the subsequent axing of the Lions will go down as one of the biggest travesties of sporting justice the game has ever seen. The prolonged wrangle – and the eventual decision to set up a promotion-relegation clashes at the end of this season – affected the ability of both the Kings and Lions to secure contracts with key players, which was always going to be necessary since the EP Currie Cup squad fell way short of the quality and depth needed to compete at this level.

This year: Joining the rugby world's longest, most attritional competition has historically been a tough task. The Rebels and Force are still struggling to claw their way up the hierarchy. The Kings' uncertain future beyond this season has meant that top quality players are not flocking toward Port Elizabeth and the squad looks very short on firepower, especially up front. If the Kings pack regularly gets a thrashing – which many pundits are predicting – keeping morale up with be hard and avoiding the wooden spoon will be a near-impossible task. If results fail to come and fans stay away as a consequence, the objective of building the game in the Eastern Cape will suffer too. Their draw is a tough one. The Kings start with probably their easiest game of the year but then host last year's finalists on consecutive weekends before embarking on their first tour of New Zealand and Australia. Squad depth has always been vital in this competition and the Kings are looking rather thin. Trips to Loftus and Kings Park in the last few weeks could turn ugly.

Players to watch: Former Toulouse team-mates Virgile Lacombe and Nicolas Vergalo will add some vital experience at hooker and scrum-half respectively. Unfortunately, two-time Heineken Cup-winner Lacombe has already signed a deal to return to France to play for Racing Métro next season. Argentina international Vergallo is likely to hang around hoping to set a trend for his countrymen who have ambitions to play in the Rugby Championship. No need to introduce skipper Luke Watson, who has been making headlines in South Africa for years, but not always for the right reasons. Reports coming out of PE suggest that the son of the province's president is suffering from big-fish-in-a-small-pond syndrome. Watson is a quality player and the Kings will need him to do plenty of hard graft, not just be the hero looking to score tries off the back of mauls.

Noteworthy signings: Tomás Leonardi (Argentina); Daniel Adongo (Kenya, Countie Manukau); Demetri Catrakilis (Western Province); Ronnie Cooke (Grenoble); Virgile Lacombe (Toulouse); Bandise Maku (Lions); Waylon Murray (Lions); Michael Killian (Lions); Andries Strauss (Cheetahs); Steven Sykes (from Sharks); Nicolás Vergallo (Toulouse)

Prospects: Not good. Don't surprised if the Kings finish the season without a win. In theory, their best chance of victory would be at home to the Force, but that game is their opening fixture so they wouldn't have had the kind of game time required to get a newly-assembled team functioning as a cohesive unit. The Rebels would be another target but the fixture in Melbourne comes at the end of a month-long overseas trip, which starts in Christchurch where a hiding is on the cards. The Kings' most important games of the year are set to be the two-leg relegation-promotion clashes with Lions. It remains to be seen what shape their squad will be in come late July.

23 Feb: v Force – Home
9 March: v Sharks – Home
15 March: v Chiefs – Home
23 March: v Crusaders – Away
30 March: v Hurricanes – Away
5 April: v Brumbies – Away
13 April: v Rebels – Away
20 April: v Bulls – Home
27 April: v Cheetahs – Away
4 May: v Waratahs – Home
11 May: v Highlanders – Home
25 May: v Cheetahs – Home
1 June: v Stormers – Away
29 June: v Bulls – Away
6 July: v Stormers – Home
13 July: v Sharks – Away