Vodacom Super Rugby
Kings powered by the hatred?
Luke Watson (Gallo Images)
Cape Town - “Take a picture, boys,” urged
veteran television pundit and former Springbok flyhalf Naas Botha in the
SuperSport studio, warning simultaneously of the likely rareness of the
There it was for all to see: the Kings
sitting handsomely atop the South African conference “throne” after the first
weekend of 2013 activity in the group, courtesy of not only beating opponents
the Western Force but actually doing so by the widest margin of any weekend SA
Any sense of rich irony goes further ...
the current bottom-sawyers (for the just as little it matters at present) are
the Stormers, conference winners for two years in succession.
VIDEO: Kings v Force, highlights
If the official promotion/relegation scrap
against the Lions took place tomorrow, it is the supposedly ambitious
Capetonians - only side without even a losing bonus point to show yet - who
would be installed as their two-leg opponents!
Botha might have forgotten, too, that with
the cock-a-hoop men from Port Elizabeth experiencing a bye next Saturday and
banking another four log points under the competition’s quirky rules, they will
actually stay at the helm for an additional week in the event (highly unlikely)
that the now two-game winless Force see off the Bulls at Loftus and (a wee bit
more feasibly) the Stormers awaken from their Pretoria summer night slumber to
down the Sharks in Durban.
A reality check is probably relevant at
Everyone, including in the vicinity of
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, is fully aware that things will only get much
tougher for the Kings, whose next visitors in a fortnight will be the Sharks,
powerful and purposeful and possibly still the best South African team from a
ball-skills and consistent fluidity point of view.
Run through the rookie Kings’ remaining
obligations as a whole and you also don’t see too many fixtures with “likely
victory” written over them for Luke Watson’s team, despite the rightful jubilation
of knocking over the Force first up.
Rebels in Melbourne on April 13? That’s a
possibility, especially if director of rugby Alan Solomons installs in the
squad the sort of positive attitude to travel he so successfully managed with
the Stormers many years ago.
The respective games against the Cheetahs,
and particularly the home one on May 25? Those could be red-letter occasions in
the scrap to stave off the repercussions of ending last in the conference.
Make no mistake, the dice remains loaded
against the Kings, especially as their last three conference fixtures feature
the Bulls (away), Stormers (home) and Sharks (away), so if they want to stave
off the relegation spectre they may well need to have somehow done the business
ahead of that trio of taxing dates.
Think also about the Rebels’ maiden season
in Super Rugby in 2011: they did quite well to win three games, yet still
finished last on the Aussie conference by a significant margin of nine points
behind the fourth-placed Brumbies.
But all that said, the Kings getting out of
the blocks in the spirited way they did - I did predict that home-town, opening
game fervour would see them over the line, even as many critics scoffed at my
folly - was a marvellous tonic to them.
It was an infinitely better maiden result
than for previous other sides introduced to the competition: the Rebels’ first
match in 2011 had been an ominous 0-43 home outcome against the Waratahs, when
the Force made their debut in 2006 they were beaten 25-10 by the Brumbies in
Perth, and in the same year - when the Cheetahs became an independent entity
after their separation from the Cats brand - the side from Bloemfontein lost
30-18 to the Bulls at Free State Stadium.
Beating the Force doesn’t automatically
make the Kings strikingly competitive for 2013, but it also drops some fairly
assuring hints that they won’t be embarrassingly uncompetitive, either, and
that is a handy tool to put in the PE box, isn’t it?
On that note, the Kings may well,
intentionally or not, be drawing some slightly laager-like motivation from the
storm of resentment that swirls in parts of South Africa - and obviously
Johannesburg in particular - around their very presence in the competition.
I also fancy that that ace strategist
Solomons and his lieutenants slightly hoodwinked some “bashers” by their
formula of not exposing their truest first team too much to pre-season
assignments, including that emotion-charged, awkward one against the Lions.
Already, it seems, some Kings knockers have
had the grace to congratulate them on their winning start, which is a step in
the right direction toward popular appeal beyond the boundaries of the Eastern
And speaking of popular appeal, the best
possible thing that could have happened in local terms was for a tender, mere
18-year-old product of nearby Humansdorp, and from a previously disadvantaged
community into the bargain, to be named player of the match before an ecstatic
crowd of 32 000 on Saturday night.
Sergeal Petersen has become an early poster
boy for the whole Kings mission; their bigger picture, if you like ...
Next week’s fixtures (home teams first, all
Friday: Blues v Crusaders, 08:30; Waratahs
v Rebels, 10:20; Reds v Hurricanes, 12:20. Saturday: Chiefs v Cheetahs, 08:35;
Bulls v Force, 17:05; Sharks v Stormers, 19:10. Byes: Kings, Brumbies,
*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: