PRETORIA - The Southern Kings will take to their northern hemisphere odyssey with the same bravado and fearless spirit they finished off Super Rugby this year, so says coach Deon Davids.
As much as it is an adventure of a lifetime into the unknown, the hurriedly assembled Port Elizabeth-based outfit, which has been given no chance of being competitive in the Pro14, feel that this is yet another opportunity to make a name for themselves and build on the legacy left behind in their best Super Rugby season yet.
In all honesty, it won’t be easy for the Kings as they have had to build an almost brand new side after many of their star players from Super Rugby left the franchise at the end of that competition but Davids remains optimistic that he can rebuild Rome from the rubble that he has at his disposal.
Gone are stars such as Lionel Cronje, Makazole Mapimpi, Chris Cloete, Michael van der Sluys, Louis Schreuder, Malcolm Jaer and Ross Geldenhuys who elevated the side to their giant killers' status in Super Rugby where they claimed the much-vaunted scalps of the Sharks, Waratahs, Jaguares and the Bulls.
But in their places come a string of little known future stars who are lining up to make a name for themselves to preserve and build on the foundation that dispelled the notion that the Eastern Cape franchise existed just to make up the numbers in the southern hemisphere.
“We are looking forward and (are) excited with what lies ahead. A new environment and a different challenge to Super Rugby and we look to explore this competition and see what happens,” said Davids ahead of their opener against the defending champions Scarlets on Saturday.
“It is still one of my biggest dreams to have the same team for more than one year consecutively and build with it. But I have been dealing with this assignment for some time now and I’m no stranger to it, but it is also not that one gets used to it. It is physically and mentally very challenging but I will definitely use my experience over the past years and grow with that method.
"Obviously you want to evolve and do some new things so for this season I will stick to the basic method. We are in the competition for the next three years and I believe with some of these players we will eventually get a chance to build something. I understand it is not going to be a quick fix, we will have to take this step by step and we are prepared to do that.”
However, Davids is not living in a fool’s paradise believing that his new look team will slay the dragons of the northern hemisphere with the same unified challenge that they showed in their refreshing brand of rugby in Super Rugby.
Instead, Davids is realistic to the fact that this first season won’t be easy but believes that his team can grow into a formidable outfit if they heed the lessons that will come with the highs and lows of victory and defeat respectively.
“You never run onto a field to lose a game. But I also think you have to be very realistic. (You have to) get the balance right in terms of how you keep that competitiveness and how you also do not get lost in the result and lose sight of what is happening in front of you," he said.
"So we will have to be clear on what the goals are and how we will achieve them and how you take the next step in building on something that was good from one game into the other.
"We will go onto the field believing in ourselves, giving it our best and playing for the result. But even if we get the result, win or lose we will always go back and see what was good and what wasn’t good and what we can improve on. I think the biggest secret is to work to improve consistently and never get lost in a result.”
And there will be no bigger reality check and baptism of fire for the Kings than facing the Scarlets on Saturday and Irish outfit Connacht a week later. This is where Davids firmly believes will be the beginning of the makings of his team.
“We are in for two big games and it’s a serious way to welcome us into the competition. But I think after these two weeks we will definitely know what the competition is about and what is expected. We can use that as a foundation to start building from. I think this is the best challenge we could face so that we can start preparing and working throughout the competition.”