Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Right, hands up all those who tipped the much-maligned Kings to outscore the hitherto Super Rugby pace-setting Brumbies by four tries to two and bank a richly-deserved 28-28 draw in their own Canberra backyard?
A sea of boastful, wiggling fingers is unlikely.
I know my own hands stay, deeply humiliated, in my pockets ... I had predicted a near 30-point outcome in favour of Jake White
’s charges, figuring that the team from Port Elizabeth might subconsciously ease off the pedal mentally and instead throw everything at the limited Rebels in their final tour match next Saturday (Melbourne, 11:40 SA time).
The Kings certainly looked headed for a pasting on Friday as the first quarter proved their most bumbling of the match: they leaked two tries, made a plethora of silly errors and unsurprisingly found themselves 13-0 down after 17 minutes.
Some South African viewers, whether outright Kings supporters or just casual sympathisers, might have been tempted to turn their televisions off there and then and head to the shops, cinema or early-weekend driving range.
Whether complacency seeped into the home team’s mindset at a rate of knots, only they will know ... but what cannot be denied is that the marvellously unyielding, increasingly competent underdogs only warmed more and more to the task in front of them despite never managing much more than a third of possession.
Why, had loosehead prop Schalk Ferreira – just another full-blooded Kings character among plenty on the night – not been sin-binned between the key 67th and 77th minutes, the game might even have swung more sensationally in their favour.
As it turned out, they were moral victors anyway, earning three log points to their fancied opponents’ two and shifting up to 12th on the overall table ahead of the Force, Rebels (those two meet on Saturday) and hapless, winless Highlanders.
They say a stalemate is like kissing your sister, but you can bet that would not have been the prevailing emotion in the Kings’ after-match dressing room, following a bullocking Cornell du Preez’s game-levelling converted try more than two minutes after the siren.
For even though there was no winner in scoreboard terms, the Kings’ performance warrants placement in the Super Rugby hall of fame.
Think about it: controversially-installed tournament rookies, their early-season task only made more hazardous by undergoing their Australasian trip so soon, and up against one of the best-performing and twice before tourney-winning outfits ... if they’d lost by 15 points they might have had a case for still claiming further, gradual “progress”.
So this result was a genuinely momentous one, and expect the biggest shudder of all to have been felt in the vast South African metropolis of Johannesburg, where the sidelined Lions may now realise that their winning a (still likely) promotion/relegation playoff series against the growing Kings is going to be anything but a fait accompli in a few months.
Mind you, if the Kings reproduce the sort of muscularity and hunger evidenced against the Brumbies and thus possibly knock over the Rebels before getting on the plane for nine further matches on South African soil – five at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium -- they may even start to believe that not ending bottom-sawyers in the domestic conference is a viable scenario.
Also to consider is that provided the Eastern Cape franchise keep winning the occasional game and not being truly thumped in others during the 2013 programme, their banishment may be short-lived even if they do end up losing their current status by mid-winter: there will be an infinitely stronger case by then for trying to find a way of accommodating them more permanently as soon as a window for fresh tampering with the Super Rugby format occurs.
“Expansion”, after all, seems to be a consistently favoured word in the corridors of SANZAR.
Comparisons can be odious, but it is a stark fact all the same that the Kings have earned a significantly better outcome against the Brumbies away than the Sharks managed at home, when they crashed 10-29, whilst their draw also eclipsed the Bulls’ 23-20 reverse at the very Canberra Stadium only a week earlier.
Let’s also not get too ahead of ourselves: the Kings remain a country mile short of world-beaters and still have some ropey areas like a misfiring lineout and occasional, costly technical naivety at the breakdown.
But they also showed enough scrummaging zeal and solidity against the Brumbies to give a team like the Bulls some set-piece anxiety (those two meet in a PE-hosted derby in a fortnight) whilst the rugged physicality of such loose forward customers as Wimpie van der Walt, Jacques Engelbrecht
and Du Preez may be a handy match when, for instance, they go head to head with Stormers staples like Siya Kolisi
, Duane Vermeulen
and Rynhardt Elstadt much deeper into the roster.
You also don’t just buy the collective character the Kings clearly possess at the corner store.
As Ben Mowen, the gracious Brumbies captain said afterwards: “We always knew they play for each other and this result shows that.”
Remaining Kings fixtures:
April 13: Rebels (a); April 20: Bulls (h); April 27: Cheetahs (a); May 4: Waratahs (h); May 11: Highlanders (h); May 25: Cheetahs (h); June 1: Stormers (a); June 29: Bulls (a); July 6: Stormers (h); July 13: Sharks (a).*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing