Kings: Will you break up this trio?
The return to action of first-choice captain Luke Watson has left the Southern Kings coaching staff with a major poser: 'Do they break up one of Super Rugby's most effective loose forward combinations?'
Watson, who has fully recovered from his throat injury and will play his first game since February when he turns out for the EP Kings in a Vodacom Cup match this coming weekend, is one of five captains used by the franchise in Super Rugby this year.
However, in his absence Devin Oosthuizen, Wimpie van der Walt and Cornell du Preez have been outstanding for the Port Elizabeth-based outfit.
However, will the coaching staff – which include head coach Matt Sexton and Director of Rugby Alan Solomons – rush Watson back next week against the Bulls?
It will be the Kings' first home game after a month-long tour of Australasia.
Sexton was not entertaining any selection speculation ahead of next week's encounter, but he was full of praise for the outstanding job thew current loose forwards did.
Speaking to this website ahead of their final tour match, against the Rebels in Melbourne on Saturday, Sexton said the trio played a crucial role in the team's impressive performances so far – which included a merited 28-all draw with the then table-topping Brumbies last week.
"They set the tone for us defensively," Sexton said, when asked about the form of Oosthuizen, Van der Walt and Du Preez.
"Just look at their stats – week in and week out they have performed really well. It is great to have guys doing the job and the other guys feed off that."
While it is on defence that they really impressed, the Kings' head coach admitted they have other skills which almost goes unnoticed.
Oosthuizen made eight tackles from eight against the Brumbies for a 100 percent completion rate, Van der Walt came up with 19 tackles from 20 attempts (95 percent) and Du Preez 15 from 16 (94 percent).
The irony is that all three had stints at other unions, but failed to break into the Super Rugby ranks there.
Now, having been thrown in at the deep end with the Kings, they left their respective marks on the competition.
"It is about getting opportunities," Sexton told this website.
"You don't know until you go out at this level.
"When we look at selecting guys, we look at them as prospective Super Rugby players. They [Oosthuizen, Van der Walt and Du Preez] have come up trumps – they've got opportunities and they are performing well.
"I am really pleased with the group we've got. They have been competitive and showed they are worthy in the competition.
"It is really pleasing from that perspective to see these guys step up and take the opportunities that they've been given."
Du Preez, at 22 the youngest of the three, was born in Port Elizabeth, but went to North West University in Potchefstroom, where he played in the Varsity Cup for NWU-Pukke. He represented the Leopards in the Under-19 and Under-21 provincial competitions and was named in the Leopards squad for 2011, without making an appearance.
He was part of the South Africa Under-20 team that played at the 2011 IRB Junior World Championship. He joined the Eastern Province Kings in November 2011, where he signed a two-year deal.
Van der Walt (24) represented the Pumas at the 2006 and 2007 Craven Week tournaments. He then joined Western Province and represented them at Under-19 and Under-21 levels between 2008 and 2010, as well as representing Maties in the 2010 Varsity Cup.
He made his first team debut in a Vodacom Cup match in February 2010 against Boland Cavaliers and made his Currie Cup debut the following year against Griquas. He made 15 Vodacom Cup and two Currie Cup appearances for Western Province.
In October 2011, he joined Italian team San Gregorio.
He returned to South Africa a few months later and joined Eastern Province Kings for the 2012 First Division season.
Oosthuizen (also 24) represented the Blue Bulls at various age-group levels and made his professional debut for them in the 2010 Vodacom Cup season, featuring in every game including the Final which they ultimately won.
He was signed by the Kings later in 2010.
By Jan de Koning