He enjoyed many absorbing battles with the Vodacom Bulls when he was wearing the colours of the Stormers, but now Luke Watson faces a different challenge as he leads his new team, the Southern Kings, against the old foe in Port Elizabeth on Saturday night.
Watson is back from a fairly lengthy absence due to a throat injury picked up in the Kings’ opening Vodacom Super Rugby clash with the Western Force at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in February. In the time since he has been away the Kings have certainly made a few statements, and having their talismanic leader taking charge will certainly be a boost to a team that will be buoyant after their opening overseas win over the Rebels in Melbourne last week.
Few would have believed the Kings would return from their four match tour with only two defeats reflected on their record and, as well as the win over the Rebels, a draw with the log-leading Brumbies. But that is precisely what happened, and you could say that even though we haven’t reached the halfway point of the season yet, the Kings have just about achieved their target for the first season in the top flight.
Watson though is a perfectionist and he will thrive on the vibe that the Kings will have behind them as they start the second part of their home campaign against the Bulls. He has grown up as a person since moving away from South Africa to play for English club Bath, and much of the enmity towards him is out of date, but he will probably always inspire conflicting emotions, and that will probably be the case again on Saturday.
The No 8 played for the Eastern Province Kings in the Vodacom Cup win over the SWD Eagles last weekend and in that match did enough to convince the Kings management that he is ready to resume his Super Rugby career. He arrives back on the playing field just in time to stake a claim for possible inclusion in the Springbok squad, something that national coach Heyneke Meyer said on Monday he would not rule out.
The Kings were not in the mix for the first selection (for the Cape Town training camp concluded on Tuesday) because they were returning from tour, but Meyer said Kings players will be considered for future camps.
Cornell du Preez moves to openside flank to accommodate Watson, with Jacques Engelbrecht, a player that Meyer says he rates highly, again playing off the bench as the loose-forward cover. Devin Oosthuizen drops out of the squad.
SOUTHERN KINGS: George Whitehead, Sergeal Petersen, Waylon Murray, Andries Strauss, Ronnie Cooke, Demetri Catrakilis, Shaun Venter, Luke Watson (capt), Wimpie van der Walt, Cornell du Preez, David Bulbring, Steven Sykes, Kevin Buys, Bandise Maku, Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: Hannes Franklin, Grant Kemp, Rynier Bernardo, Jacques Engelbrecht, Nicolas Vergallo, Marcello Sampson, Siviwe Soyizwapi.