Luzuko Vulindlu, Schalk Oelofse, Leighton Eksteen and Charles Radebe have been included in the Southern Kings squad to face the Cell C Sharks on Saturday at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium at 15:00.
The Southern Kings surprised many with the intensity and attitude they brought to their play in their one previous season in Vodacom Super Rugby in 2013, and their skipper Steven Sykes has hinted that their return to the competition this year will see something similar.
The Kings host the Cell C Sharks in their opening fixture in the competition at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday afternoon, and Sykes will be paired up with fellow former Sharks player NC Astle in the second row as the Eastern Cape side goes out in search of a shock victory over their more favoured and experienced coastal rivals.
The Kings were written off when they made their appearance in the competition under the coaching of Alan Solomons in 2013 but started that tournament with a shock victory against the Western Force. With their defensive game to the fore, they were more competitive than expected, particularly on their tour of Australasia, where they drew with Jake White’s highly rated Brumbies and beat the Melbourne Rebels. Upon returning home, they also beat the Highlanders.
Solomons is now in Scotland and the defence guru who was so instrumental in helping the Kings punch above their weight that year, Omar Mounmeine, is now with the Sharks having spent some time in Scotland with Solomons and at the Mpumalanga Pumas since then.
Deon Davids is now the head coach, and will face an uphill battle due to the unsettled build-up. The Kings plans only started to come together in December after South African Rugby Union performance director Rassie Erasmus was sent to Port Elizabeth to help with the recruitment of players and coach. Solomons had far more time to organise his resources three years ago.
However, Davids, like Sykes, appears upbeat about his team’s chances of delivering some pride and entertainment to an Eastern Cape sporting public that has been starved off top rugby in recent years.
“We couldn’t ask for a better draw, to start playing at home. We know that Port Elizabeth is the friendly city, they always support games well, they love their sport and their rugby and we are going to need that (support),” said Davids after announcing his team.
“I can assure you that the guys wearing the jersey will do their utmost best,” added the coach.
Sykes concurred that he was in charge of a team that is hungry to get into action.
“I think the guys have a bigger, never say die attitude. The guys want to play, we want to show everyone we are here to play rugby and to play as a team,” said Sykes.
The Kings team doesn’t feature many survivors from the franchise’s previous taste of Super Rugby other than Sykes, prop Schalk Ferreira and No 8 Jacques Engelbrecht. However, there are several players who have featured in the Super Rugby campaigns of other franchises, such as former Bulls fullback Jurgen Visser and former Cheetahs flyhalf Elgar Watts.
The Kings suffered a late withdrawal shortly before the team announcement when Jacobie Adriaanse was ruled out with a concussion and Davids is set to evaluate Louis Albertse and Liam Hendricks in a scrummaging session later on Wednesday, before finalising his bench.
SOUTHERN KINGS TEAM: Jurgen Visser, Luzuko Vulindlu, JP du Plessis, Shane Gates, Malcolm Jaer, Elgar Watts, Ntando Kebe, Jacques Engelbrecht, Thembelani Bholi, Chris Cloete, John-Charles Astle, Steven Sykes (captain), Tom Botha, Martin Ferreira, Schalk Ferreira.
Replacements: Edgar Marutlulle, Sithembiso Sithole, Louis Albertse or Liam Hendricks, , Cyril-John Velleman, Leighton Eksteen, Louis Fouche, Charles Radebe.