The Southern Kings will on Saturday experience first-hand what the whole fuss about the travel factor in Vodacom Super Rugby is all about when they host the Vodacom Bulls at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
The Kings only returned to Port Elizabeth late on Sunday evening after their four-match Australasian tour, which finished with a draw against the Brumbies in Canberra before they beat the Rebels in Melbourne.
A sold out Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium will await the Kings on Saturday, with their regular captain and most experienced player, Luke Watson, also back after missing the tour because of injury.
Returning from tour is not always easy. Last year, South Africa’s two most successful Vodacom Super Rugby teams, the Vodacom Bulls and The Sharks, both experienced this first hand by losing at home upon their arrival back from Australasia.
In 2011, only the Vodacom Bulls managed to win their first post-tour home match, with The Sharks, DHL Stormers and Toyota Cheetahs all losing their and the MTN Lions getting a draw.
The Kings know they will have to be at their best to beat the three-time champions in PE and thereby recording their first victory over a fellow South African side.
“This should be a hotly contested game and I am really looking forward to it,” said Watson, who will be playing in his 84th Vodacom Super Rugby match, which includes 20 appearances for The Sharks and 62 for the DHL Stormers, whom he also captained.
The Vodacom Bulls will be hoping to build on their win over the Toyota Cheetahs last weekend – their first in more than a month.
“We had to work very hard for the win against the Cheetahs and we want that momentum carried over into the Kings match,” said Vodacom Bulls coach Frans Ludeke.
“I am pleased with the way the combinations worked on the night and decided to stick with that. We will need to be very structured and cohesive against the Kings, who will be fired up and spurred on by a sell-out crowd. To have an unchanged team will hopefully offset those early challenges.”
Vodacom Bulls captain Pierre Spies said: “We had to dig deep and needed all 22 in the squad to beat the Cheetahs, something that will work in our favour when facing the Kings for the first time. We need to focus on our own game and not allow the crowd to get into the match, so need to have a strong start and keep up the effort.”
The Vodacom Bulls announced a late change to their team. Dewald Potgieter was forced to withdraw with a knee injury. Arno Botha will start against the Kings, with Jacques Potgieter coming onto the bench.
The teams are:
Southern Kings: George Whitehead, Sergeal Petersen, Waylon Murray, Andries Strauss, Ronnie Cooke, Demetri Catrakillis, Shaun Venter; Luke Watson (captain), 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 Soyzwapi.
Vodacom Bulls: Jürgen Visser, Akona Ndungane, JJ Engelbrecht, Jan Serfontein, Lionel Mapoe, Morné Steyn, Jano Vermaak, Pierre Spies (captain), Arno Botha, Deon Stegmann, Juandré Kruger, Flip van der Merwe, Frik Kirsten, Chiliboy Ralepelle, Morné Mellet. Replacements: Callie Visagie, Werner Kruger, Paul Willemse, Jacques Potgieter, Rudy Paige, Louis Fouchè, Bjorn Basson.