PRETORIA - What was meant to be a dead rubber derby between the Bulls and Southern Kings at Loftus Versfeld this afternoon has been spiced up by the exclusion of the Eastern Cape franchise from Super Rugby.
Yesterday’s announcement by the South African Rugby Union that the Kings along with the Cheetahs will no longer be part of the southern hemisphere competition after the conclusion of this season, will further fuel the emotion and appetite to prove the administrators’ decision wrong by the Port Elizabeth players.
However, the Kings were always on a crusade to prove their worth to the competition this year. Beyond just the breathtaking rugby they have produced, and the emergence of many unlikely stars, they were always going to be a threat to the Bulls in the capital because of their sheer giant killing appetite.
The significant in-roads that the Kings have made particularly this season has been in the manner in which they have been competitive in their matches.
And this was further amplified by their maiden wins against the Waratahs in Sydney followed by a historic win over a South African franchise when they beat the Sharks in Port Elizabeth. And they backed up their bravado with another win this time against the Jaguares in Buenos Aires last weekend.
What will have been top of the Kings’ minds in the run up to this afternoon’s battle against the ailing Bulls would have been one more prized scalp in their penultimate match of a season to exceed even their own wildest expectations.
Today, the Kings will go out on their last crusade away from home not only to showcase the home grown talent within their team that justified their inclusion into the competition all those years ago, but to also prove a point that there is still a place for them in Super Rugby even though the powers that be have decided otherwise.
It will be on the back of this decision to cull the Kings that the Bulls will be even more wary of the danger the Eastern Capers pose to them and while the men in blue are secure in their status in the competition, they will be desperate to put on a performance worthy of their place even though they have endured the worst of seasons.
Henry Speight of the Brumbies, attempts to break past Nicolaas Hanekom de Wet and Andisa Ntsila of the Southern Kings, during a Super Rugby game between the Kings and the Brumbies at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. Picutre: Deryck Foster/BackpagePix
The irony of it all will be in the minor detail of the Kings being one place above the Bulls on the log currently but the Bulls have seemingly turned the corner after their performance against the Sharks last week and have promised a display of total rugby.
Despite the shocking and disheartening results this season that saw the ousting of coach Nollis Marais at the end of the season for the well-travelled and experienced John Mitchell, the Bulls showed enough fight and intensity in their play last weekend in Durban to prove that they can still become a force in the competition going forward.
As much as the Kings will be eager to argue the lack of rugby logic in the decision to leave them out of the competition next year and beyond, the Bulls will go out to send a chilling reminder that the sleeping giant of the north is awakening again in a bid to rekindle the glory days which saw them lift three Super Rugby titles in four years.
“It will be a classic derby," said Marais this week.