Cape Town - Television pundit Stuart Barnes probably summed
up the thoughts of many who witnessed the Kings’ unforgiving debut in the
The former England flyhalf said that despite the lopsided
final score-line, the result in favour of defending champions the Scarlets in
Llanelli somehow didn’t feel like the 57-10 match it was.
He was also animated about how meaningfully the visitors
from Port Elizabeth contributed to an excellent spectacle in tempo and
There was plenty of heavy breathing on both sides towards
the finish, and no less an authority on the occasion than the player of the
match, Scarlets right wing and former Crusaders stalwart Johnny McNicholl,
confirmed that the encounter had equalled a good-level Super Rugby contest for
its relentless pace and energy.
However unedifying South Africans, and particularly Eastern
Cape enthusiasts, might have found the outcome on paper, there is no special
reason to feel overly downbeat - not yet, anyway - about the Kings’ suitability
to their new competitive landscape.
Yes, you might argue that the Welsh-based cup-holders were
coming out of the northern off-season and should only improve in fluidity and
error-restriction terms themselves, but the strong majority of their squad are
well familiar with each other within the white lines, courtesy of their stellar
achievements last season and certain established positional alliances even
earlier than that.
There was no such advantage for the Kings, who recently had
their budding ranks near-cripplingly plundered by other unions in South Africa,
deals having been struck before it was known - most unfortunately and
infuriatingly - that the Super Rugby-culled Kings would find a PRO14 lifeline.
So not for the first time in their short but tumultuous
history, head coach Deon Davids and his immediate allies have found themselves
in the position of having to cobble together at very limited notice what,
initially at least, seems more like an “Eastern Cape Invitation XV” than
Keep this in mind: a mere four of the Kings team that
started the closing Super Rugby ordinary-season fixture against the Cheetahs on
July 14 (a tight 21-20 reverse in the Friendly City) also ran out amidst the XV
that began against Scarlets. Of the quartet, the only unchanged pairing in any
area of the park for them was at centre, where Luzuko Vulindlu and Berton
Klaasen operated again in tandem.
In the seven weeks or so subsequently, their personnel have
been overwhelmingly idle in game-time terms - the Kings don’t play Currie Cup - with an awful lot of hastily-hired guns from various corners of South Africa
also tasked with suddenly forging new understandings at a rate of knots.
Under the circumstances, how the Kings fared against the
title-holders away - hardly the most desirable way to debut, roster-wise - left
cause for considerable hope, however bizarre that may appear to many.
Particularly in the thoroughly engrossing first period,
where the Kings managed to stay right in touch (they trailed only 15-10 at the
change-over) there were remarkably decent passages of continuity from the
When the floodgates eventually opened, too, you never got
the sense that the visitors wilted altogether in pure fortitude.
There was also enough bright evidence to suggest that
certain of their freshly-acquired individuals deemed surplus to requirements
further up or down the SA coast may, progressively, thrive in the opportunity
to get proper, consistent exposure in a competition commanding healthy global eyeballs.
Into this category may well fall Kurt Coleman - for several
years a third- or even fourth-choice type of flyhalf at Newlands - rangy lock
Jurie van Vuuren and that always big-hearted wing S’bu Sithole.
At one point on Saturday he even managed to near-replicate a
“Lomu on Catt” run-over occurrence as he flattened Leigh Halfpenny in a
narrowly-thwarted charge for the try-line.
In spite of their bad second-fiddle status on the deck, there
were also some constructive moments from Khaya Majola, the open-side marauder
seldom given solid match-time at the Sharks because of their traditional
plethora of sound-calibre loose forwards.
Some will consider my take on the Kings at this point overly
optimistic, and I don’t doubt that there were sobering, borderline-humiliating
aspects to their Llanelli thumping.
But context and early-campaign circumstance should not be
summarily tossed aside.
I cannot supress a reasonably devout feeling that this
47-point setback may already be about as bad as it will get for them; that the
only way, by extension, is up.
Watch this space?
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