Kings powered by the hatred?

    2013-02-24 10:32

    Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer

    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 opportunity.

    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 triumph.

    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 this point.

    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 Cape.

    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 SA times):

    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, Highlanders.

    *Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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