PORT ELIZABETH, SOUTH AFRICA - FEBRAURY 05, Luke Watson during the Southern Kings training session at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, B Field on February 05, 2013 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa Photo by Michael Sheehan / Gallo Images

No Luke Watson, Andries Strauss, Waylon Murray or Bandise Maku – all supposedly injured and not ready for action. Or were they kept out of this fixture for other reasons? We’ll never know.

What we do know is the Southern Kings have plenty of work to do in the remaining few weeks before they make their Super Rugby debut, because, while they ran the Lions close here yesterday, the truth is they looked out of their depth and in severe need of some quality coaching.

First, one’s got to think that the Super Rugby newcomers would have benefited far more had their best players run out against their stiffest opposition yet in this match. All we have learnt about the Kings, who came into this match following wins against the Varsity Cup side, the Madibaz, Despatch club and a SWD XV, is that their back-up, or depth, is extremely weak and not up to this level of the game. Only a handful of the players who featured here yesterday will be in the Kings starting team for their opening game against the Western Force in two weeks’ time – so why even play this game?

There were several worrying aspects about the Kings performance... and that against a second-string Lions team, South Africa’s worst performing Super Rugby outfit for the past few years.

Most alarming was the ease with which the Lions scrum pushed the visitors off their own ball, but also the number of attacking line-outs the Kings lost. Winning your own set-piece is crucial in rugby and if the Kings don’t improve drastically in these areas they’re going to battle to put anyone under pressure.

And while their defence was generally acceptable, the Kings failed miserably in stopping the Lions from 10 metres out. Coach Johan Ackermann’s home team expertly won line-out ball to set up the drive ... and they scored three of their tries in this manner.

There were not too many Kings players who would have played themselves into the first choice team, but scrumhalf Johan Herbst, who scored two tries, never stopped working, while No 8 Jacques Engelbrecht is a player who could make a big name for himself. As a unit though, the Kings were completely out-played by the Lions for 50 minutes and only when Ackermann made changes in the later stages of the match did the Kings find a few holes in the home team’s defence.

The Kings got to within three points of the Lions late on – mainly because the Lions had lost their structure, because of the changes – but let’s take nothing away from the Kings. They could have given up when down 27-7 soon after half-time, but they fought bravely till the end and even put some good phases together, asking plenty of questions of a tiring Lions side.

If nothing else, the Kings look to be fit, able to play in scorching heat at altitude, for 80 minutes.

But whether they’ll stand their ground in Super Rugby is another matter. We’ll really only know once the competition gets going. Their final tune-up is against Griquas in Kimberley on Wednesday.

The Lions have a month off before playing against French club side, Mont de Marsan.

Ellis Park

Lions (22) 41

Tries: Roodt (2), Breet, Dreyer, Tecklenburg (2); Conversions: Boshoff (3), Cronjé; Penalties: Boshoff

Kings (7) 31

Tries: Bernardo, Herbst (2), Parkes; Conversions: Dunlop (2), Whitehead (2); Penalty: Whitehead- Sunday Independent