FOLLOWING victories in their opening two matches, the EP Kings U19 side face arguably their toughest challenge of the season so far when they meet their Western Province counterparts in the Absa U19 interprovincial tournament at Nelson Mandela Bay in Port Elizabeth on Saturday (25 July).
It will be a case of east versus west at the NMB Stadium on Saturday because the U19 game at 2pn will be followed by the U21 provincial competition clash between the two provinces at 4.15pm, with the senior teams rounding off the programme at 7pm.
The Kings U19 side, under coach Mzwandile Stick, have made the perfect start to the competition, with away wins over Free State and the Leopards putting them in second place on the log.
However, they know that this weekend will be another major test for their playoff chances as Western Province have perennially produced outstanding age-group teams, as shown by their triumphant march through the Coca-Cola Craven Week tournament in Stellenbosch last week.
But the Kings players will not stand back for anyone. Under the leadership of captain Jeremy Ward and Junior Pokomela, both products of Grey High in Port Elizabeth, they will be fired up to maintain their form to show they are serious challengers for the playoffs.
The match will also be a test of the squad’s playing resources as the selectors have made several changes for various reasons.
Lusanda Badiyana, who has been leading the pack, is absent for personal reasons, giving Wihan Coetzer a start at lock, with Pokomela taking over the vice-captaincy.
Among the backs, Dominik Uytenbogaardt gets his first start on the wing, with Athi Mayinje dropping to the bench, while Michael Brink is back from injury and takes the flyhalf berth.
After two successive losses, the EP Kings U21 side have plenty of motivation to succeed when they take on their Western Province counterparts in the second match of the afternoon.
Having excelled by winning the B Division last season, as well as the promotion-relegation match, there is plenty of pride in the EP ranks to show they can compete with the best.
They have the perfect opportunity on Saturday to show their true potential against WP, but will need to eliminate the errors which have plagued them in the opening two games.
They are missing flank CJ Velleman for this encounter following an injury, but it gives Brandon Brown a chance to show what he can do on the side of the scrum. Former Marlow scholar James Beyl also gets an opportunity in the starting line-up at tighthead.
The Kings have included two England exchange students in their squad, with big centre Sam Bedlow, from Sale Sharks, getting his first start in the midfield in place of Luan Nieuwoudt.
In the pack versatile loose forward Andy Hughes, who played for England U18, is on the bench, having come on as a replacement last week.
WP have played just one game to date, losing 17-13 to the Sharks in Cape Town, so there will be plenty of incentive for both sides to move away from the wrong end of the log.
The EP squads are:
U19 (15-1): Mabhutana Peter, Dominik Uytenbogaardt, Yamkela Nyalambisa, Jeremy Ward (captain), Avelo Jubase, Michael Brink, James Hall, Junior Pokomela (vice-captain), Hayden Tharratt, SF Nieuwoudt, Wihan Coetzer, Robert Lyons, Roche van Zyl, Thango Balekile, Nicolaas Oosthuizen
Replacements (16-23): Craig Hume, Matthew Howes, Kuhle Mokhoabane, Jason Lizamore, Pieter Swanepoel, Sibusiso Ngcokavane, Jordan Koekemoer, Athi Mayinje.
U21 (15-1): Malcolm Jaer, Somila Jho, Sam Bedlow, Riaan Esterhuizen, Lindelwe Zungu, Simon Bolze, Franswa Ueckermann, Kevin Kaba (captain), Tyler Paul, Henry Brown, Jan Uys, Gerrit Huisamen, James Beyl, JP Jamieson, David Murray.
Replacements (16-22): Cameron van Heerden, Thembelihle Yase, Jason Reinecke, Andy Hughes, Luvo Klaasen, Luan Niewoudt, Mihlali Nchukana.