Port Elizabeth – The EP Kings will be aiming for a high level of consistency when they open their Currie Cup premier division rugby campaign against Western Province in Port Elizabeth on Friday.
That was the message from experienced Kings captain Luke Watson this week as the region contemplates a return to the top flight of the Currie Cup for the first time in 12 years.
“We must be consistent throughout the competition and not allow one or two negative results to compromise the entire campaign,” Watson said this week.
“Our head coach Carlos Spencer has been good this week because it cannot become too much of an emotional thing. This is not a friendly against the Sharks and then a five-month break.
“You play Western Province, and then the Lions and then another big team and another one. So we have to create an environment where the guys are emotionally stable and mature, and producing consistent performances.”
EP know they will be up against it because the WP side, despite missing several senior players, is littered with Springboks, plus talented and speedy backs such as Seabelo Senatla and Cheslin Kolbe.
WP will be led by Bok centre Juan de Jongh, who will be keen to make an impression after missing out on selection for the national Rugby Championship squad.
With players such as Eben Etzebeth, Siya Kolisi, Jaco Taute and Tiaan Liebenberg backing him up, De Jongh leads a strong unit who will want to put a dampener on the Kings' return to the premier division.
The Kings are under no illusions as to what awaits them and Spencer said it would be crucial for them to do the basics well if they were to match the Cape outfit.
“We will really have to do the basics well and try to control the match by playing in the right parts of the field,” Spencer said.
The Kings coach said the Currie Cup remained “a massive” competition in the context of South African rugby, but the plan this week had been to keep the players relaxed.
“This week was all about keeping relaxed,” Spencer said. “We know it is a big challenge, but we have aimed to enjoy the week without putting too much pressure on the players.”
Watson assured the Kings fans that there would be no lack of commitment from his team.
“It is similar in some ways to our Super Rugby debut last year when there were new faces and new management, and it was a bit of a mystery what to expect,” Watson said.
“But we will be looking for the guys to perform to the best of their ability and whatever happens, it won't be for a lack of commitment.”
Reflecting on his squad, WP coach Allister Coetzee said Etzebeth would only be involved for part of the match while prop Frans Malherbe would come off the bench some time in the second half, injuries permitting.
In all, eight of the 22- man WP squad for the clash will be making their Currie Cup debuts against EP, although wings Kobus van Wyk and Senatla, lock Manuel Carizza, and prop Alistair Vermaak have played Super Rugby for the Stormers.
“Fortunately for us, Eben and Frans have been part of our pre-season training,” Coetzee said.
“Eben would have played a Super Rugby match if he hadn't broken his toe in an accident at home.
“It's great to have them back for this game. This match will be to their benefit and also to the team's benefit as well.”
Western Province: Cheslin Kolbe, Kobus van Wyk, Juan de Jongh (captain), Michael van der Spuy, Seabelo Senatla, Demetri Catrakilis, Nic Groom, Nizaam Carr, Michael Rhodes, Siya Kolisi, Manuel Carizza, Eben Etzebeth, Pat Cilliers, Tiaan Liebenberg, Alistair Vermaak. Replacements: Stephan Coetzee, Frans Malherbe, Jean Kleyn, Sikhumbuzo Notshe, Louis Schreuder, Robert du Preez, Pat Howard.
EP Kings: Lizo Gqoboka, Edgar Marutlulle, Tom Botha, Steven Cummins, David Bulbring, Thembelani Bholi, Stefan Willemse, Luke Watson (captain), Tobie Botes, Gary van Aswegen, Siviwe Soyizwapi, Shane Gates, Tim Whitehead, Ronnie Cooke, Scott van Breda. Replacements: Albe de Swardt, CJ van der Linde, Darron Nell, Aidon Davis, Kevin Luiters, George Whitehead, Ntabeni Dukisa.– Sapa