Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – Jubilant after their way-above-expectation maiden overseas tour, the Kings will return to South Africa on Sunday licking their lips about giant-killing possibilities ahead in the domestic Super Rugby conference.
Fresh from a commendable, game-turning surge of energy in the final quarter of their fourth and last Australasian fixture against the Melbourne Rebels on Saturday – enough to see off their hosts 30-27 thanks to Demetri Catrakilis’s dropped goal after the siren – the controversially-introduced franchise from the Eastern Cape suddenly don’t look anything like the easy-beats they were initially tipped to be in their double dose of derbies against their four more established compatriots.
People partial to the currently labouring Stormers, for instance, have been comforting themselves in the suggestion that the Capetonians, conference winners in both 2011 and 2012, have an “easier second half of the programme”.
A good part of that logic, at least until the past week or so, involved the fact that the Stormers still have ahead of them both clashes against the rookies.
But it is becoming more and more clear that the Kings aren’t going to play rollover for anyone – especially as they advanced to an uncomfortable mere one point adrift of the considerably bigger franchise, even given that the Stormers still had their tough home game in hand against the Sharks later on Saturday (17:05).
The Kings’ overseas leg has been a roaring success, even if you take into account that they were pretty firmly beaten (though far from disgraced) in the first two encounters in New Zealand – bear in mind that those were also still only their fourth and fifth experiences respectively of Super Rugby combat.
But it is their heroism in Australia that has really made observers sit up and take notice: holding the strong Brumbies to a draw and then knocking over the Rebels means that the newcomers hold an unbeaten record from three meetings with Aussie sides this season (they’d beaten the Force 22-10 in their debut appearance in the competition at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium).
If they down the Waratahs in PE on May 4, or at the very least earn another stalemate, they will have ensured no defeat against any Australian opposition for 2013, and you would not have seen too much support for that occurring before the tournament began.
The Kings’ sterling resistance abroad – including a credible harvest of seven log points -- looks all the more praiseworthy when you measure it against the maiden seasons of the Cheetahs and Lions as independent entities in the Super 14 in 2006.
Formerly a slightly fractious alliance as the Cats, these teams went it alone in that year (though the Lions were still branded the Cats for one further season) and neither had any joy overseas.
The Cheetahs were comprehensively beaten by the Waratahs, Brumbies and Crusaders and then pipped 33-32 by the Chiefs, whilst the Cats were similarly walloped by the Brumbies, Hurricanes, Waratahs and Crusaders, and also had a consolation close call against the Highlanders although they were edged 16-14.
They say that it is on foreign turf where South African teams’ mental and other mettle is most rigorously tested in Super Rugby, and the Kings have come through their baptism in that regard with flying colours.
For instance, their results record overseas is actually better than the three-time champion Bulls shortly before them in 2013: Pierre Spies’s men lost three times and earned a lone victory.
Speaking of the Bulls, it is they who loom as the Kings’ next foes next Saturday – a trip to the Friendly City that ought to be anything but that for the Pretoria-based outfit.
The side clearly so smartly drilled and motivated by Alan Solomons and Matt Sexton have as many as seven derbies among their nine remaining fixtures; the only exceptions are visits from the Waratahs and currently poverty-stricken (nought from seven) Highlanders.
The Kings will not mind that too much: if they have already won many hearts in New Zealand and Australia, now comes their opportunity to showcase to the many sceptics back home their suitability to rugby at this level.
Although they continue to bring up the rear in the SA conference, the gap on both the Stormers and Bulls has closed a fair bit and at the very least the Kings appear to have the potential now to be genuine party-spoilers to some teams domestically, who will not relish their “Kings away” fixture, in particular.
Even before their journey abroad, the new team had demonstrated in a tight, 21-12 defeat to the currently conference-leading Sharks that they are hard nuts to crack.
Those nuts may now be even harder?
Remaining Kings fixtures:
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