Johannesburg - As the build-up to this year’s Super Rugby tournament moves into its final countdown, it is once again the usual suspects of the South African franchises showing who the smart money should be on.
The Bulls demonstrated in their 32-10 victory over the Cheetahs in their pre-season friendly in Polokwane that one would be foolish to bet against the Pretoria-based side.
Elsewhere, the Sharks were in rampant form in their pre-season friendly against the Leopards when they dismantled the North West team 71-8.
The Durbanites ran in 11 tries to the one of the Leopards, signalling that they will, along with the Bulls and the Stormers, be strong candidates for the Super Rugby title.
In another game on Saturday, the Stormers thrashed Boland 57-0 in Cape Town.
Newbies in Super Rugby, the Kings may have fielded for all practical reasons a second-string side in their match against the Lions in Johannesburg, but their 41-31 loss to the relegated SA franchise does not bode well for their debut year.
Another worrying factor for the Eastern Cape franchise is that they have not yet fielded a team reflecting that of a likely starting line-up that would withstand the pressures of Super Rugby.
Injuries have not made their preparations any easier as they were unable to send some of their top players to Johannesburg due to niggling injuries.
Captain Darron Nel, however, found some positives from their second warm-up match ahead of their inaugural Super Rugby match against the Western Force in Port Elizabeth on February 23.
"With any side, they have their starting line-up and you know who will play, there is always a chance and there might be four or five guys here today that find themselves in the starting line-up against the Force," Nel said on Saturday.
As most of the seasoned top teams in Super Rugby had demonstrated over the years, depth is key to being competitive in the uncompromising competition.
The Kings’ performance on Saturday might have set off warning bells in Port Elizabeth as their fringe players were found wanting for the majority of the match.
Nel, nevertheless felt that the side got exactly what they wanted out of the contest.
"There were things we worked on during the off-season, and we wanted to come out and make sure we do those things well," Nel said.
The Lions were in fine form as they continued with their entertaining brand of rugby attacking the gain line at pace showing little inhibition on attack.
The Lions ran in four tries within the first 45 minutes, and lost some vital rhythm when coach Johan Ackermann was forced to ring the changes.
The Kings pounced on the Lions’ untested combinations and got themselves within striking distances to turn the tables on the Highveld team.
The Johannesburg-based side, however, kept their composure at the end to clinch the victory.
Ackermann admitted that he might have been overzealous with the rolling subs in the second half, which he believed swung the balance of the match in favour of the Kings.
"I am obviously disappointed with our defence in the second half, I may have used too many rolling subs at once, which led to miscommunication on defence," Ackermann said.
"It is something small that we will have to rectify because you won’t always enjoy such a lead."
The Lions will now enjoy a four week break before their next match on March 16, while the Kings are likely to select their strongest combinations for their final warm-up match against Griquas.