Ulster's Peter Nelson celebrates his try against the Cheetahs with teammates Tommy Bowe and Darren Cave. Photo: INPHO/Darren Kidd
Ulster's Peter Nelson celebrates his try against the Cheetahs with teammates Tommy Bowe and Darren Cave. Photo: INPHO/Darren Kidd
Scarlets' Johnny McNicholl scores his side's first try against the Kings. Photo: INPHO/Camerasport/Simon King
Scarlets' Johnny McNicholl scores his side's first try against the Kings. Photo: INPHO/Camerasport/Simon King

CAPE TOWN - Anybody who expected the Cheetahs and the Kings to just sweep their opposition aside in their PRO14 debut matches at the weekend probably indulged in wishful rugby thinking.

It was never going to be easy, especially for the Kings. The Cheetahs, who played together in the Currie Cup before their departure to the European competition, fielded an almost all-Super Rugby side against Ulster on Friday.

The Kings, on the other hand, lost a number of their players (the likes of Malcolm Jaer, Makazole Mapimpi, Ross Geldenhuys, Chris Cloete, Lionel Cronjé and Wilhelm van der Sluys) after they were axed from Super Rugby along with the Bloemfontein outfit, and welcomed a number of new faces, which would have made their preparations tougher.

And at the weekend, the fact both sides still have a long way to go before they can start thinking of lifting a trophy in a different hemisphere really showed.

The Cheetahs were comprehensively beaten in Belfast by an Ulster side that featured six South African-born players and a number of former Sharks, including Jean Deysel, Louis Ludik, Wiehahn Herbst and Marcell Coetzee, and the Irish club ran in six tries to claim a 42-19, bonus-point win.

The Cheetahs' shaky defence let them down again, but their poor discipline didn’t help either as they received two yellow cards to loose forward Henco Venter and prop Johan Coetzee. And the couple of soft tries they let in is also something that should be addressed.

The Kings, who went down to the defending champion Scarlets in Llanelli the following evening, looked good in the opening half - not good enough to secure a win, but good enough that some spectators probably forget about what a hustle it was to get their preparations, and team, in place. But that didn’t last long. The Kings’ promising start didn’t stay around for very long after they received a warm welcome form the crowd in Llanelli.

But it’s important to remember the Kings only had a little less than two weeks together, so any criticism would be unfair.

The Eastern Cape team looked threatening early on with ball in hand and put a few exciting attacking moves together - with beautiful passes and good running lines - to keep Scarlets on their toes.

Their defence was also something to admire, as they kept Scarlets in check for good periods with solid driving-back tackles.

But all of that intent and intensity became diluted with handling errors and sloppy play as the clock ticked on and, to be fair, it wasn’t just the Kings who were to blame for the referee’s hand going up every so often - Scarlets were also guilty of conceding a number of penalties.

The Kings were still very much in the game at half time as they trailed 15-10, but in the second 40, Scarlet put 42 unanswered points on the Kings to bag a 57-10 victory. Going forward, the Kings need to keep those spirited displays up for a full 80 minutes.

Given not only the results, but also the performances, there’s still a lot that both the Cheetahs and the Kings can improve on if they really want to test their new competition. But there were also a lot of positives, especially from the Kings.

It’s still early days, and things aren’t just going to fall into place. But it can only go better.

Cape Times

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