Discipline key in brutal SA derby
PRO14 SPOTLIGHT: Maintaining discipline will be a strong focus ahead what is expected to be another brutal clash between South African rivals the Cheetahs and Southern Kings.
Emotions ran high after a last-minute conversion by veteran Springbok Ruan Pienaar sealed a 31-30 win for the Cheetahs over the Kings in the first of their catch-up matches in Port Elizabeth last week.
The return match in the domestic derby takes place in Bloemfontein on Saturday and Kings assistant coach Braam van Straaten has left no-one with any illusions about the physicality that the Eastern Cape team will bring as they look to exact revenge.
There was plenty of niggle in Port Elizabeth last weekend, so much so that head coach Robbie Kempson said his men will be ready to dish it out in equal measures this week.
However, while he fully expects the niggle to carry over from the first-round game, defence coach Van Straaten has stressed that his men will be playing within the laws of the game.
“It has been said by [coach] Robbi [Kempson] and Robbi will handle that fully,” Van Straaten said about the promises of retribution.
“That’s his job, to put down the tone for the week.
“But for us, it is still work as usual.
“We need to go out and perform to the best of our abilities without getting pulled into too many incidents.
“Our job is to focus on the game. It will be very physical, but within the rules.”
Van Straaten readily acknowledges that the Kings can ill afford to play the sort of hot-headed rugby that has resulted in a rash of cards this year – costing them dearly.
“Cards have been an Achilles heel for us, we’ve been getting on the wrong side of the referees,” Van Straaten said.
“Discipline has been a big focus for us this year.
“We believe that sometimes we’ve been unlucky, such as when a player is sent off trying to defend himself when there is no malicious intent.
“Things do happen in the heat of the moment. But I think that technically we have been getting better with our defence. High tackles are getting less and less, and we need to maintain that improvement.
“It is crucial that against the Cheetahs we don’t give away soft penalties that allow them to get into our half,” he added.
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Van Straaten made it clear though that while his team is being primed to play within the laws, there will be carry over from the incidents that so incensed the players and the head coach last week.
“The niggle will carry over, it is a South African derby after all,” he said.
“We believe it was a plan of theirs to unsettle some of our players because of our history of ill-discipline. We handled it well to a certain extent.
“But, again, we have to go there with the mindset that we must win the physical battle without doing anything stupid that will make our job of winning the game harder.”
The former Springbok flyhalf and former Wallabies kicking coach highlighted the passion he has seen in the Kings players this season.
“These boys are passionate about this team; they are passionate about this franchise and they are passionate about this region of the Eastern Cape. We really want to make a statement going forward,” Van Straaten said.
One thing is certain, the improvement in the young charges is evident.
“The team is growing. We can see that,” he said.
“If we played the Cheetahs a few months ago, we would have received a proper hiding. The team is growing, the boat has turned.
“We are still not yet firing on all cylinders, but those are things we are addressing to get better each week.
“We will definitely have one or two things up our sleeve come this weekend.
“From here on we will definitely see a Kings’ team that will test anybody out there. We back ourselves; we back the cattle that we put out onto the field. There have been some real, gradual improvement from week to week.”