Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town - The Kings appeared to get their urgency back in their last game before a well-deserved bye - they’ll need more of it yet if they are to achieve what few critics felt they’d be capable of before the Super Rugby season started: avoiding the wooden spoon overall.
Nine points behind the fourth-placed Sharks in the South African conference and with only five games left each, it remains close to certain that the newcomers from the Eastern Cape will be the ones slugging it out with the Lions in the stipulated promotion/relegation clash at campaign’s end.
With continuity and burgeoning street-wisdom on their side and the Johannesburg outfit, by contrast, struggling for high-calibre match-play during Super Rugby, a case can be made for saying the balance has tilted and the Kings will be slight favourites for that particular tussle now.
But even if Luke Watson’s team do end up disappearing off the radar for a couple of years, they have probably done enough already to convince all the key figures in the SANZAR fold that Port Elizabeth is worthy of a place at the Super Rugby table in the medium term, when the competition inevitably expands anew.
That sentiment won’t change, I fancy, even if they were to lose all remaining matches in the 2013 competition; a powerful enough marker has been put down.
Regardless of whether they are officially relegated later this winter, just imagine, too, how compelling their case for more permanent future participation will be if they can stave off finishing bottom of the 15-team overall pile.
Apart from the Bulls, South African teams may not be hogging the very best real estate at the top of the table right now, but at least the country can currently boast its worst-placed team - the Kings - being above both of the worst-performing Australian and New Zealand sides (Force and Highlanders) as things stand.
In terms of the battle at the wrong end of the table, the Kings aptly beating the Highlanders at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday for their third victory in 11 games (with one draw) was a vitally important result - had they lost, the Kings would have been the team slipping to the lowest rung after the latest round.
Instead they can be well pleased with their 13th place; they would probably bank that quite happily if the ordinary-season programme ended immediately.
The Kings will be making notable history if they can avoid bringing up the rear: they would be the first genuinely newly-established franchise not to hold the wooden spoon after their maiden season in Super Rugby.
When the Western Force was created from scratch for inclusion in the 2006 Super 14 competition, they brought up the rear with one win and two draws to show from their 13 fixtures (although perhaps it is encouraging and educative for the Kings to note that the following season the Perth-based side improved to as high as seventh, a commendable top-half finish).
Then in 2011, the first year of the new conference system and a 15-team participation, virgin outfit the Melbourne Rebels also ended last, earning three wins and 13 defeats from their 16-match programme.
The Kings have already eclipsed that because they can only lose a very maximum of 12 matches now, even if all five SA derbies left for them go the other way.
Speaking of derbies, another motivation for the run-in phase after their bye (those four points this weekend could well give them some extra daylight on the other strugglers) will be to earn that elusive first scalp of a compatriot side.
The Kings have failed in three stabs so far (at home to the Sharks and Bulls and away to the Cheetahs) but will keep plugging away, especially if they can cash in on any listlessness from sides like the Stormers and Sharks if those two get to their leftover Kings matches truly out of the running for the playoffs.
Of the quartet of most obvious tournament strugglers, the Kings and Force have the advantage of bye points yet to bank; both the Rebels and Highlanders are done in that department.
But the Western Australians, only one point adrift of the Kings, have easily the most assuring run-in on paper, as their four lingering obligations are all at home.
So the Eastern Cape side will know that they are probably going to have to burgle one or two derby victories in the coming weeks if they are not to prop up the table at close of play on July 13.
The Kings have made very sound “PR” strides in their quest to woo the southern hemisphere rugby scene; they would be silly to ease off that particular pedal now ...
Remaining games for the current bottom four sides in the competition:
Rebels (12th; 24 points from 11 matches):
Stormers (h), Waratahs (h), Reds (a), Brumbies (a), Highlanders (h).Kings (13th; 20 points from 11 matches):
Bye, Cheetahs (h), Stormers (a), Bulls (a), Stormers (h), Sharks (a).Force (14th; 19 points from 12 matches):
Sharks (h), Highlanders (h), bye, Waratahs (h), Brumbies (h).Highlanders (15th; 16 points from 10 matches):
Bulls (a), Force (a), Blues (h), Crusaders (h), Hurricanes (a), Rebels (a).*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing