Johannesburg – Right, the Lions won their so-called “grudge match” against the Southern Kings on Saturday, but that was always likely to be the case when the men from the Eastern Cape rocked up in Joburg minus several key players.
But what did we learn about the Super Rugby newcomers, who make their debut in less than two weeks’ time?
Firstly, the Kings’ depth is going to be a problem over the 18 weeks of competition. The Lions, who they’ve replaced in the competition, as well as the Cheetahs, have had depth issues in the past and if the Kings’ performance at Ellis Park on Saturday, where they lost 41-31, is anything to go by, one feels the 2013 competition is going to test every player and coach in the franchise.
It was far from a full-strength Kings side that played on Saturday – perhaps we’ll get an idea of the first choice team when they play against Griquas in Kimberley on Wednesday – and if we’re honest, many of those players shouldn’t be close to playing at this level. At best, some of them are decent club players, but Super Rugby? No way.
One of the most alarming aspects of their performance was how easily the Lions were able to win line-out ball, set up the driving maul and power over the tryline. The Kings had no idea how to stop the maul and you can be sure the opposition teams will have taken notice. Also, the Kings were pushed off their own ball at scrum time on more than one occasion and their set-pieces in general were of a very poor standard.
Senior Kings player and captain on the day, lock Darron Nell, admitted his side have some big challenges ahead. “Those are certainly things we need to work on, but I don’t believe they’re things we can’t fix,” said Nell referring to the line-outs and scrums.
So if the Kings coaching staff wanted to get an idea of where the team stand two weeks before kick-off, they got their wish.
They now also probably have a better idea who is good enough to make the step up and who isn’t. “It was a good outing for us,” said Nell, “and I think some of the players got the chance to show what they can do. Some guys put their hands up, others didn’t.”
Nell added the only way the Kings can keep the critics and doubters quiet is to deliver on the field. “There’s an unbelievable vibe in the eastern Cape ... I grew up there and I’ve never experienced the atmosphere as it is at the moment. A lot of people are sceptical, so it’s for us to show they needn’t be.”
By scoring three late tries to pull to within three points of the Lions at one stage of the match, the Kings showed they will not lie down this season but also that they’re a pretty well conditioned team, able to go for the full 80 minutes.
Having now seen the back-up players in action the conclusion we can reach about the Kings at this early stage of the year is that at full strength they may scare a few teams and even win the odd game, but as soon as the injuries hit, which they will, they will battle against the top teams.
Those who’ve played in the competition say Super Rugby is on a par with Test rugby and is at times even more demanding because it is played at break-neck speed and you’re asked to produce the goods one week to the next with no let-up. It is a major physical and mental test ... one the Kings are clearly not ready for.
The Bulls appear to be in prime condition so close to kick-off, having downed the Cheetahs in Polokwane, with several players shining, while in Cape Town the Stormers had little difficulty getting the better of Boland.
On Friday the Sharks beat the Leopards in Pietermaritzburg ... and as has been the case for several years now it appears South Africa’s strongest teams by some margin will again be the Bulls, Sharks and Stormers. – The Star