at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
While some will be interested in the performance of the Stormers, Bulls, Cheetahs and to a lesser extent, the Lions, the only team every rugby fan wants to see in action today is the Southern Kings.
There has been plenty of hype – and talk, both good and bad – surrounding the Super Rugby newcomers’ entry to the competition this year and, starting today, the Kings will get their chance to prove the doubters wrong and show South Africa what they’re capable of at this level of the game.
But, as much as everyone wants to see what they have in store, their result and their performance today against the very team they’ve replaced in Super Rugby, the Lions, means zilch in the greater scheme of things.
It will only be in the competition proper that the Kings will be tested to the full and their strength be examined.
For today they come up against a second string Lions outfit, missing several of their first choice players, while the Kings coaching team are also still some way off fielding their strongest side.
Several of the Eastern Cape’s team’s first choice men are still on the road to full fitness having picked up injuries in the off season, while no team will show all their cards so early on.
That said, the Kings will want to produce a performance that will give hope and confidence to the players, coaching staff and supporters as we are, after all, two weeks away from kickoff for the South African franchises.
And if the Kings needed a far stiffer test than the ones they’ve had up to now – against Despatch, an SWD XV and the Madibaz Varsity Cup team – they’re certainly going to get it from the Lions.
Both coach Johan Ackermann and captain JC Janse van Rensburg have talked down the clash today, saying it is just another game, but deep down they will want to beat the Kings, and do so with conviction, to make a point to those who dumped them from Super Rugby.
It’s a match that both teams will desperately want to win, even if the result will mean nothing. It should be a thrilling contest, kickoff is 2.15pm.
The other big warm-up games today are in Cape Town and Polokwane where the Stormers face Boland and the Bulls entertain the Cheetahs.
And, after fielding a number of youngsters in their previous outings this season, the Super Rugby coaches are now far more interested in seeing how their big guns go, now that the competition start is just around the corner.
With eight Springboks in their run-on team the Stormers will win comfortably against Boland at the Cape Town Stadium (2.30pm), but coach Allister Coetzee will be far more interested in the tempo his team can produce and whether their attacking game is as good as their defence.
Also, Jean de Villiers is back after spending several weeks recuperating after a very demanding 2012, and his showing at outside centre will be closely watched.
Also, keen to make an impression will be Jaco Taute at fullback, Siya Kolisi at openside flank, Andries Bekker at lock and Pat Cilliers at tighthead prop.
In Polokwane, a near full strength Bulls take on a Cheetahs team that is still not settled.
Coach Frans Ludeke has opted for his big guns for the match – no less than 12 Boks in the starting team – and with such great depth in Pretoria this season they look to be a formidable outfit, with plenty of fighting going on for a starting place.
The form of the likes of Pierre Spies, Francois Hougaard, back at scrumhalf, Morné Steyn and Chiliboy Ralepelle will be closely scrutinised.
The Cheetahs, meanwhile, are getting ever closer to being a first choice side, but Juan Smith will again play off the bench, while the likes of Coenie Oosthuizen, Heinrich Brüssow and Johan Goosen are still missing.
With the Sharks having played against the Leopards last night, South Africa’s Super Rugby teams are shifting into fifth gear and readying for their 2013 challenge, which is now just two weeks away. - Saturday Star