JOHANNESBURG - Just a day after their expected exclusion from Super Rugby, the Southern Kings achieved their crowning moment in the competition by recording yet another historic victory when they beat the Bulls 31-30 at Loftus Versfeld on Saturday evening.
It was a victory for the underdog, a victory for a team not deemed good enough but more than anything it was a moral victory for rugby and the future of the Kings up north.
The Kings have defied the logic that they, along with the Cheetahs, are the weakest sides in South Africa and are deserving of the proverbial axe that fell on them on Friday and instead planted the seed of doubt on whether it was a wise decision to leave them out of the southern hemisphere’s premier competition.
But typical of the resilience the Kings have shown this season in defying the odds and beating the Sunwolves, Waratahs, Jaguares and Bulls away from home including a maiden victory against a South African side with a win over the Sharks in Port Elizabeth, Deon Davids' men are already looking to a new dawn in their rugby with the likelihood of them playing in a new northern hemisphere competition.
Kings captain Lionel Cronje, the man who has been at the heart of the Kings revival and all conquering spirit, says it was never about proving their worth in the competition but rather about getting self-respect for themselves as individuals and as a team.
“This whole season has been to play for the self-respect and to get the respect of the players around you and to earn the respect and show your worth to yourself before you can worry about external factors that you have no control over.
"It is what it is, there is nothing we can do about it. We can only look forward to it like we have looked forward to this Super Rugby campaign when it started out.
"We can’t be negative about it, we have to be positive about it. It is a new venture and there are a lot of positives that can come out of it and that is what we choose to focus on.
"That is what our team is built on is being positive and enjoying it and each other’s environment. Whatever circumstance or competition we will be in we are going to look to be competitive and enjoy our rugby and play for each other,” Cronje said after contributing 21 points to his team’s win at Loftus.
But as the Kings look up north to probably join the Pro12 and make it the Pro14 with the inclusion of the Cheetahs as well, they face an even more challenging task of having to rebuild their team with many of their star players leaving the Port Elizabeth-based franchise at the conclusion of the Super Rugby season.
While the uncertainty of their future was at the heart of forming a close knit unit and being the glue that binds the team, it was that very uncertainty that led to many of the players opting to sign elsewhere to secure their futures.
Cronje is heading to Japan while the likes of star wing Makazole Mapimpi is going to the Cheetahs, flank Chris Cloete to the Pumas, scrumhalf Louis Schroeder to the Sharks, flank Tyler Paul to the Sharks, lock Irne Herbst and prop Dayaan van der Westhuizen back to the Bulls, leaving Davids without the spine of the team that has sent shockwaves throughout Super Rugby this year.
As heartbroken as Davids will be at watching his labour of love evaporate into the Port Elizabeth night next weekend after their final game against the Cheetahs, he remains confident that he can again rebuild the team, produce new stars and be as competitive as the giants of the northern hemisphere given the time and resources to do so.
“Ja unfortunately that is what is going to happen.
"I’ve never in my life, at this level, been able to work with a team for more than two seasons consecutively.
"So it’s tough mentally and physically to start all over again and put things in place.
"But if it is a worthy cause and we can have the same results as in the same situation we’ve had then so be it, we must do it,” said Davids.