Cooke warns of 'x-factor' Elton
Springbok Elton Jantjies could hold the key to the Lions' return to Super Rugby in 2014.
Jantjies is one of three loan players who returned to the Lions last week – ahead of the first of their two Super Rugby promotion-relegation games, in Port Elisabeth on Friday.
Jantjies (back from the Stormers), hooker Martin Bezuidenhout (also Stormers) and Bok training squad member Franco van der Merwe (from the Sharks) started training with the Lions last week.
The Southern Kings host the Lions at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in PE this Friday, with the return fixture at Johannesburg's Ellis Park a week later (Saturday, August 3).
The series is being decided on a Super Rugby standings system – four points for a win, with losing and four-try bonus points part of the mix. The team who tops the standings after the two matches will be the fifth team in the South African conference in 2015.
With so much at stake it is expected the game will be an intense and brutal battle, but the Kings are well aware of the threats posed by the Bok flyhalf, Jantjies.
Kings centre Ronnie Cooke said the coastal outfit were prepared for a running game from the Lions.
"Elton brings an x-factor to the game that will suit the Lions, because they play a running game," Cooke said.
"He could spark something for them."
Kings Director of Rugby Alan Solomons and coach Matt Sexton said there was a feeling of "excitement" in the camp, but said they were concentrating on the basics and sticking largely to the defence-based game plan which had worked for them this season.
"I think the general feeling we have is excitement, it's a huge occasion, it's like a Test match or World Cup Final," Sexton said.
"The guys are looking forward to the occasion."
The New Zealander said he did not want to give too much away about the game plan.
"You take each team on their merits and there are opportunities that will be presented during the match and we just need to capitalise on that," he said.
"The times where we have been successful on the score board are times where we've been very clinical in our approach."
Solomons has encouraged his team to "live up to expectations".
"This match is critical to both franchises because the consequences of these matches are extremely serious," Solomons said ahead of the crunch encounter.
"The winners of these two matches remain in Super Rugby and the side that loses is out of Super Rugby.
"And you have to understand the consequences of not playing in Super Rugby, because there is no inspiration to retain young players and no top-class rugby for the public, so the consequences are dire."
After seeing the Lions team, Solomons said he was expecting a massive test, but was up to the contest.
"There is no question that the Lions have got some really good players, but I do not think they are better than we are," he said.
"I think this will be a tight affair that will turn on little things."