They don’t have too much time to get it right, and just six days after playing the beaten finalists from last year, the Southern Kings now find themselves pitted in Vodacom Super Rugby battle against the competition champions, the Chiefs, at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Friday night.
So it’s going to require a sharp upward learning curve from the Kings, who would have felt they had achieved a lot in holding the Sharks to just a nine point win last time out, but who at the same time will acknowledge that they need log points if they are to survive in the competition. According to head coach Matt Sexton, his team is doing just that, and it won’t surprise anyone who watched the Sharks game to learn that he has targeted ball retention as the area that needs work.
The Kings were outstanding on defence last Saturday, but if they are required to tackle like that every week, they are soon going to run out of steam. And with big away matches against the Crusaders, Hurricanes, Brumbies and Rebels to come on their overseas tour, that could spell disaster.
“Part of being defensive against the Sharks last week was that we didn’t hold onto the ball properly and we made silly errors and turned over ball when we shouldn’t have,” he said.
“I think if we held onto the ball for a number of phases it might have been a different story. So we’ve been working on that at training and making sure the guys understand what they have to do. They’ve seen the pictures and the implications of letting go of the ball too easily.”
The Chiefs lost to the Stormers in Cape Town last week, but they still scored four tries against the best defensive team in the competition from last season. Sexton has taken note of that, and doesn’t see too many weaknesses in the Chiefs outfit.
“They have threats right across the board. They’re pretty clinical when you turn over the ball or on a miscued kick or things like that. We want to be nice and tidy with what we do and I think that if we do that we’ll present a good challenge to them,” he said.
“They have good depth right across the board, so I think looking at their squad, whatever team they put out will be pretty solid at scrum time too, we will have a bit of a job on our hands and look forward to the challenge. We learnt a lot from our encounter against the Sharks.”
Darron Nell, who will once again captain the side in the absence of regular captain Luke Watson, who sustained a blow to his throat last week, hinted that his team could hardly have asked for a tougher baptism.
“Last week we had the Sharks and this week we have the Chiefs, the two finalists from last year,” said Nell.
“We just want to concentrate on our processes and make sure that they work well and I think the results will look after themselves. Without a doubt it’s going to be a tough game but we just want to look at ourselves and make sure we can do what we can do properly.”
Meanwhile Watson will visit a specialist on Thursday as the Kings try to get to the bottom of the throat injury that has sidelined him for more than a fortnight. Alan Solomons, the Kings director of rugby, said that once that had been done the Kings would make a decision going forward.
The Kings squad is unchanged from the one that lost 21-12 to the Sharks and Solomons said told journalists that the continuity in selection was the fruition of a pre-season plan.
“We spoke at the beginning of the season about how we, as a group, were looking to get some consistency in selection particularly over the first three games, which was the first phase of the season before going away on tour,” said Solomons.
“We have been able to do that which is also a tribute to the players who have given themselves and have performed very, very well.”
SOUTHERN KINGS TEAM: SP Marais, Marcello Sampson, Ronnie Cooke, Andries Strauss, Sergeal Petersen, Demetri Catrakilis, Shaun Venter, Jacques Engelbrecht, Wimpie van der Walt, Cornell du Preez, Steve Sykes, Darron Nell (captain), Kevin Buys, Bandise Maku, Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: Edgar Marutlulle, Jaco Engels, David Bulbring, Daniel Odono, Nicolas Vergallo, George Whithead, Hadleigh Parkes.