The magnitude of the task awaiting the Southern Kings on their first overseas tour in Vodacom Super Rugby was aptly summed up by team leaders Steven Sykes and Andries Strauss after the 35-24 defeat to the Chiefs in Port Elizabeth at the weekend.
Both spoke about the naivety of the youngsters in the group when it came to touring, and there are very few Kings players who had played Super Rugby before this season, let alone played on a tough overseas leg, which starts with a match against the Crusaders in Christchurch this coming Saturday.
“The guys are coming to me and asking me what they should take with them on tour, what money they will need and things like that,” said Sykes.
“Yes, and we told them they just need money for burgers,” quipped Strauss, who played off the bench against the Chiefs after he failed to respond fully to treatment for bruising sustained in the match against the Sharks and was pulled out of the starting team on the eve of the match.
The Kings are certainly going to find playing in a place like Christchurch a far cry from their home ground, where crowds have numbered over 30 000 in all three matches played so far, and where scrambling defence is given a rousing ovation and the spectators in unison chant “defence, defence, defence” when the opposition have the ball.
Going to the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium is certainly a rewarding experience and it is hard not to be sucked in by the energy.
Former Springbok wing Stefan Terblanche, now working as a comments man in the SuperSport studio, was on the money when he said on Saturday afternoon that the support the Kings have enjoyed has already justified the Kings’ place in the competition.
It shows how hungry the people in the Eastern Cape are for top rugby, and once again there was a multi-racial mix to the crowd you get nowhere else except Newlands.
Terblanche was also right when he said that the Kings have shocked friend and foe so far.
They have only only one game, against the Western Force, and in the matches against the Chiefs and the Sharks they failed to pick up a bonus point. But most critics would have expected them to be buried by the two finalists from last year, and they weren’t.
Instead of being smashed, in both games the Kings still had a chance of winning going into the last five minutes.
INTENSITY AND PASSION ON DEFENCE
And in both they played with an intensity and passion on defence that the Sharks would have done well to copy in their match against the Brumbies.
“We are playing to the team identity we spoke about at the start of the season. We resolved that we would go out and play every game with great character, and we did that again in this game,” said Kings director of rugby Alan Solomons.
“Everyone sitting up here (management team) has been impressed with the courage and commitment the teams have displayed.”
No-one will argue that the Kings don’t give away a lot to the other teams when it comes to talent. After all, the Chiefs side they lost to this past week has been a Super Rugby franchise since 1996.
The Southern Kings, as a Super Rugby franchise, have only just come into existence, and because Saru couldn’t guarantee them more than a year to find their feet, they have struggled to get the equity partner and the financial backing needed to secure players up to Super Rugby level.
But if the Kings are out of their depth they haven’t shown it so far in their home matches. That though is the operative phrase – so far the Kings have played all their matches in front of their home crowd.
What is going to happen when they play away? Solomons and coach Matt Sexton appear confident that they will adapt.
“It’s all a learning experience and the one good thing about touring is that at least we will have all the players on tap in the sense that they will always be together under one roof and we can call them together at any time,” said Sexton.
“Obviously we would like to win, but the guys have done well so far. We just need to start becoming more confident when carrying the ball, but that will come. That is what we are working on. There were too many turnovers of our possession and that hurt us.”
Solomons was pleased with the depth that was shown by the replacements who came onto the field in a game where apart from the loss of the captain immediately before kick-off, there were also several players who had to come off the field.
“The guys who came on came on quite seamlessly and that is a good sign. We will assess the injuries before finalising our squad for the tour. It is going to be a big challenge for us as by the time we get to Christchurch it will be 1am in the morning and just a few days before the game. But there is a lot of enthusiasm and eagerness to go out and experience it,” said Solomons.
Regular captain Luke Watson did not leave with the squad as the throat injury that kept him from facing the Sharks and the Chiefs is still being assessed by specialists.
“It’s disappointing but we can’t take Luke with if he is not 100% fit,” said Solomons.
Article source: http://www.supersport.com/rugby/article.aspx?Id=1841434