DESPITE the teams being locked in a bitter Super Rugby promotion battle last season, there is no bad blood or lingering hostility between the Southern Kings and the Lions.
That was the word from Kings captain Darron Nell and acting head coach Robbi Kempson as they looked ahead to what could be a fiery Super Rugby friendly at Nelson Mandela Bay on Saturday.
Asked if there was animosity between the sides, Nell said: “I do not think last year’s games have any relevance. We have a whole new set of goals that we want to achieve at the Kings.
“There is no purpose in looking back. We know where we want to go in the future. We started that process against the Cheetahs last week, now we will continue against the Lions.”
Kempson also denied that there were any grudges between the two arch-rivals.
“No, I do not think so at all. I get on very well their head coach, Johan Ackermann, and we recently chatted as well. Just like the previous game, we are giving them the best opportunity to prepare for Super Rugby,” he said.
“On the players’ side there is not much edge either. The majority of these players never played against the Lions last year and from our side we are trying to get something on the road in the way we play the game.
“It is important for us to get our ducks in a row and give the Lions a good dress rehearsal ahead of Super Rugby. I think they will play a full-strength side against us and mix their teams as they get close to the season.”
Kempson has not ruled out the possibility that the Lions could be having a close look for new talent in their Super Rugby squad when they turn up at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
“I know Ackermann will be looking at a few players in our squad because he needs depth in his squad and he has not quite found that yet. Players like Shane Gates and Rynier Bernardo will always pop up on somebody’s radar,” he said.
Ackermann will bring out most of his big guns for their second Super Rugby pre-season outing. A number of senior players — including Springbok lock Franco van der Merwe, Jaco Kriel, Julian Redelinghuys, Jacques van Rooyen, Marnitz Boshoff, Andries Coetzee, Michael Bondesio and newly appointed skipper Warren Whiteley — were rested last week.
The Eastern Province Kings’ Vodacom Cup side will play a friendly against Despatch as a curtain-raiser to the Kings versus Lions match on Saturday. This game will kick off at 2.30pm.