Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Hermanus – While some cynics see the Kings as potential â€œone-season wondersâ€? in Super Rugby, the coach of South Africaâ€™s most consistent franchise in recent seasons isnâ€™t prepared to join the naysayers.
Stormers mastermind Allister Coetzee would probably admit to a little bias and affection toward the Kings – as long as they donâ€™t impede his own outfitâ€™s ambitions – as he is a proud Eastern Cape product, having been born in Grahamstown and once a SARU scrumhalf legend of the region.
But he told Sport24 at a media briefing from the Stormersâ€™ pre-season camp here on Wednesday that he believes they can be sufficiently competitive.
â€œObviously I donâ€™t know exactly what is happening in the camp there, but I can tell you how excited the people are in the Eastern Cape to have good first-class rugby, Super Rugby, back in Port Elizabeth.
â€œItâ€™s a wonderful city and (Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium) is a great place … youâ€™ve seen when the Boks play there, or even when we do (the Stormers beat the Kings 38-13 in a pre-season friendly last year), how excited the people get and how well-supported the venue is.
â€œFrom that perspective alone, it will be great to play them … and I think most sides will find it tough playing them there.
â€œWith that squad that Alan (Solomons, their director of rugby) is building, they will definitely be highly competitive.â€?
The Kings recently unveiled a provisional squad, which included many gnarly South African campaigners who are no strangers to Super Rugby from prior franchises.
These include centres Waylon Murray and Andries Strauss, wing Michael Killian, lock Steven Sykes, loosehead prop Jaco Engels, hooker Bandise Maku and loose forward and captain Luke Watson.
They will also benefit from the services of Nicolas Vergallo, the highly-rated, much-capped Argentina scrumhalf.
Coetzeeâ€™s Stormers team, the defending SA conference champions, first meet the Kings at a fairly advanced stage of the competition, in round 16, when the Newlands all-Cape derby is staged.
The Port Elizabeth follow-up is on July 6, and in round 19.
Early Kings matches:
February 23: v Force (H)
March 2: bye
March 9: v Sharks (H)
March 15: v Chiefs (H)