The Southern Kings’ chances of ticking off another box on a fast dwindling things to do list could be significantly improved if Andries Strauss gets through a fitness test in Port Elizabeth later on Tuesday.
The experienced centre, a vital cog in the Kings machine and one of the players used as captain during the course of the season, came off the field against the Highlanders 10 days ago with a shoulder injury.
The good news, according to Kings director of rugby Alan Solomons, is that Strauss has made good progress and could well be in the frame to play his old teammates from the Cheetahs in a Vodacom Super Rugby derby at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
“Andries took part in training today (Monday), although it was a light training session, and we are hopeful that he will be ready for the game, although we will only make a final decision about his inclusion tomorrow (Tuesday) after a more intensive training session,” said Solomons.
The team will be named on Tuesday afternoon and it will be interesting to see what Solomons and coach Matt Sexton do with the loose-trio for the Cheetahs game. Jacques Engelbrecht is fit again and after playing so well before an ankle strain put him out for a few weeks he was one of the form players in the Kings outfit.
However, in the win over the Highlanders all three loose-forwards were outstanding, and it may require some thought on how they will be deployed against the Cheetahs, who had all their back row players back intact and in good form in the win over the Reds.
“Jacques took full part in training and has been cleared for selection by the medical team,” said Solomons.
The Kings shouldn’t have too much reason to tamper with the team that played so well against the Highlanders and with the Eastern Province Kings, so impressive in the Vodacom Cup, now completed their season, there is plenty of depth for Solomons to rely on during a final fortnight push that precedes a three-week break for the June international window.
Although there are a few players who Springbok coach Heyneke Meyer should be looking at, the bulk of the Kings players will be able to rest during the break as they prepare for a finish to the Super Rugby season that could be followed by a series of promotion-relegation games against the Lions.
But there is still a faint chance the Kings could avoid that scenario, and they should have noted the signs that the DHL Stormers showed in their most recent match against the Rebels that a combination of injuries and pressure on them to change aspects of their game plus the knowledge that they no longer have an interest in the Super Rugby trophy could be having a negative impact.
The Stormers are at a cross-roads in their season as up to now they have been competitive, and perhaps unfortunate, in most of the games they have lost.
But if they take their focus off now that they are only playing for pride, the Kings could catch them on the log.
At the moment there are only six points separating the two sides, and the Kings get to travel to Newlands after Saturday’s game against the Cheetahs.
But the Kings won’t be looking ahead two weeks, they will be directing all their focus into their attempt to break new ground by beating a fellow South African team in a big derby match.
The last time they were in a similar situation was when they played against the Bulls and a full house turned out to watch them after they returned from their overseas tour, only for the Kings to disappoint by being slightly off their game which led to them being outplayed.
The earlier home derby against the Sharks was tightly contested and the Kings will be looking to regain that form, although they also showed against the Highlanders that they have added some extra strings to their bow since then, with their attacking game significantly improved.
The Kings have already surprised friend and foe with some of their achievements this season, which include wins over New Zealand and Australian teams, and a win and draw on their first ever overseas tour.
Although they played well against the Reds, the Cheetahs in Port Elizabeth may just provide the Kings with their best chance of breaking through one of the few barriers that they still have to get through.