Can Kings upset applecart in Super-sized Currie Cup?
SPOTLIGHT: The solicitous Southern Kings are voracious about another opportunity to test themselves against South Africa’s Super powers.
Kings interim coach Robbie Kempson, also the franchise’s Director of High Performance, said there is “great excitement” at the prospect of returning to a strength-versus-strength Currie Cup – after languishing in the First Division for four years.
The Eastern Province outfit was axed from the Currie Cup after they finished last in the nine-team Premier Division in 2016, losing all eight their games – with the Free State Cheetahs, Blue Bulls, Western Province, Golden Lions, Sharks, Griquas, Boland Cavaliers and Pumas ahead of them.
They were also axed from Super Rugby in 2017 – despite the Kings managing a respectable 11th place, with six wins from 15 matches. In 2016 they finished a lowly 17th, with two wins from 15 matches.
On the back of a mass exodus of key personnel, their fortunes since their arrival in the Pro14 have been less than impressive.
The Kings were sitting at the bottom of Pro14’s Conference B – with just one win from 13 outings when the competition was paused in March.
The previous two seasons weren’t much better either – finishing bottom of Conference B on both occasions with just two wins and a draw from 21 matches in 2018/19 and one win from 21 matches in 20-17/18.
Kempson said the five months of inactivity due to the COVID-19-enforced lockdown, since March, and the well-documented financial issues at the Port Elizabeth-based franchise, do make things slightly tricky.
However, the situation has allowed players in the ‘very young’ squad to be galvanised together.
“From my point of view it is great to see how responsive the guys have been,” Kempson told @rugby365com in an interview.
“They are so positive and enthusiastic about everything,” he said, adding: “It has assisted the process to ensure we to try and put a decent product on the field when eventually we do start to play again.
“Yes, it has been difficult, but the support has been there from both the management staff and SA Rugby through Rassie [Erasmus, Director of Rugby].”
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They will get their chance to show what the schooling of three years of playing in the Pro14 has produced.
“It is a great opportunity for the players and coaches alike,” Kempson said about their much-anticipated return to the Currie Cup.
“As the Cheetahs did last year, albeit in a diluted competition, the measure of the Pro14 and how tough it is will come through in this Currie Cup and there will be a few upsets.”
Like all the teams around South Africa, the players are looking forward to just get back on the park.
However, the Kings have the added motivation of testing themselves against Super Rugby outfits like the Stormers, Sharks, Bulls and the Lions.
“South African fans have been crying for exactly what’s about to happen, which is [a] strength-versus-strength [Currie Cup],” he told @rugby365com.
“People might disagree with me, but I would say it goes back to about 2003/04 when we last had a proper [strength-versus-strength] competition.
“For the players, the Springbok coaching staff, Rassie [Erasmus, Director of Rugby] it is a great opportunity to see all the young talent in action.
“They can also look at the current Springboks, see where they are after the World Cup and ahead of the British and Irish Lions tour next year.
“It will also be a good gauge of the depth of talent in SA.
“It is a fantastic initiative that we will finally play one [strength-versus-strength] and long may this continue.”
He said it would be unfair to compare the Currie Cup to the Pro14.
Perhaps a better measure is the Pro14 against Super Rugby.
“People harp on about the Crusaders, but perhaps one of the best teams in the world is Leinster – one that Southern Hemisphere scribed seem to ignore.
“When you play a team like that, full of internationals, it is at a different level.
“The Pro14 could probably compare to Super Rugby as a competition.
“However, at times the sides are diluted by Six Nations call-ups and other [European] competitions.
“Perhaps it [Pro14] is not as combative as a full-blown Super 12 was back in the day.
“However, the way Super Rugby is now and how diluted it has become in regards to the competition structure, I don’t think Pro14 is far off it at all.”
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