Port Elizabeth– The Southern Kings, who leave on Sunday for the overseas leg of their Super Rugby campaign, will be targeting further improvement in their overall play as they contemplate their most challenging part of the season.
The competition rookies lost their second match in a row out of three straight home games when they went down 35-24 to the defending champions the Chiefs in Port Elizabeth on Friday, but delivered another gutsy performance as they strove to prove they belonged in the competition.
Not helping the Kings’ cause on Friday was the late withdrawal of captain and lock Darron Nell through injury, meaning Steven Sykes had to step into the leadership role, their third captain in as many matches.
Regular captain Luke Watson had been sidelined after suffering a blow to the throat halfway through their first match, while vice-captain Andries Strauss started Friday’s game on the bench.
“It was bit tough with Darron getting injured in the warm-up,” Sykes said after the game.
“But they are the defending champions, so we always knew it was going to be a tough game, but I think we did well. We must just keep holding on to the ball a bit more.”
Ball retention has been a recurring theme for the Kings, who have been outstanding defensively, but have not had many opportunities on attack.
“The most important thing for us is to improve week after week,” Sykes said.
“We held on to the ball more than last week. It is something we need to keep working on, but I felt we gave our backs more ball from the set piece tonight.”
Sykes added that the team were looking forward to the trip overseas and their first match against the Crusaders on Saturday.
“For lots of them 1/8Kings players 3/8 it will be the first tour so we hope everyone has recovered from tonight 1/8Friday night 3/8 before we fly out on Sunday.”
Watson will not be in the touring party. Kings director of rugby Alan Solomons said the regular captain had not fully recovered from his throat injury and they were not prepared to risk taking him on tour.
While the Chiefs were still smarting from losing the previous weekend to the Stormers, captain Craig Clarke said they were satisfied with the outcome, in which they collected a bonus point.
“It was big battle,” Clarke said. “You must give them a lot of credit for the way they played, they put us under a lot of pressure, and we were a little frustrated with our execution.”
Meanwhile, Chiefs’ try-scoring hero, wing Lelia Masaga, with three tries, paid tribute to loose forward Liam Messam who was playing his 100th game for the New Zealand franchise.
“The coaches wanted to make sure we get involved, get some ball in hand and hopefully score some tries,” Masaga said.
“But tonight was all about Liam Messam playing his 100th game and I just want to make sure I was doing something for the big man.” – Sapa