The Southern Kings have named Andries Strauss as captain, with Luke Watson coming on from the bench for the match against the Cheetahs on Saturday in Bloemfontein.
Director of Rugby, Alan Solomons, said the decision to bench Watson had been made following a number of factors.
“Just to put perspective on it, Luke sustained a bad ankle injury at the end of last season and missed the last couple of games. He worked very hard, he is extremely professional and diligent, to get his fitness up to speed, which he did by the last pre-season game against the Griquas,” he said.
“Unfortunately in the first game, against the Western Force, Luke sustained a nasty throat injury where he fractured a bone in his throat that made things extremely difficult in that it partially blocked his airway and made training impossible.”
Solomons said Watson had restarted training while the team was on tour and had played a full 80 minutes against the SWD Eagles in the Vodacom Cup the week before the team returned.
He said he had discussed Watson’s fitness with him as well as the medical and conditioning team ahead of the Bulls game and had decided that they would start him and play him for 40 to 45 minutes, which they did.
“Obviously Luke is our captain. He is an experienced player with international experience and super rugby experience,” he said
“For this particular game, however, we are playing up country in Bloemfontein, there is an altitude factor and after discussing it with the conditioning and medical staff, as part of the plan for Luke’s full re-entry into Super Rugby, I have decided that the most appropriate thing would be for him to come in off the bench.”
“With Luke coming off the bench, Andries assumes captaincy and Steven Sykes takes control of the Forwards as vice captain,” he said.
Solomons said Sergeal Petersen was also not up for selection after continuing concerns over the groin strain he had sustained last week during training, despite initial indications that he was eligible for selection.
“Sergeal’s groin is still not 100% and on discussing it with the medical staff, we feel that it would not be worth risking.”
“He is a young guy, an athlete and wing. If he tears the groin muscle, it could not only affect his playing this season, but his career going forward. He is a young 18-year-old who has a marvellous career ahead of him and we feel that to be cautious at this point in time is the right thing for him.”
Solomons said Petersen’s unavailability presented an opportunity for Siyanda Grey to make his Super Rugby debut, while Marcello Sampson was also being rested, making way for Michael Killian, who missed out the first half of the season after breaking his arm before the start of the season.
“Siyanda sustained a torn ACL last season, and it has been a long hard road to recovery, but he has now played regularly for the Vodacom Cup side and it is great to have him back playing for the senior side and being able to play Super Rugby.”
“Marcello has been involved in most of the games to date, Michael comes back from injury and we have done a rotation there, as it is important that we have strength in depth. One must also remember that we have now played seven games back to back, including four on tour, and the effects of that are being felt,” he said.
Solomons said Ronnie Cooke moved back to centre for Waylon Murray, who moved to the bench.
Discussing the front pack, Solomons said Rynier Bernardo would start while David Bulbring moved to the bench, while Jacques “Vleis” Engelbrecht would start at number eight in Watson’s place.
Virgile Lacombe has also been named on the bench, having recovered from his rib injury and having come off a strong showing in the second half of the Vodacom Cup game against the Sharks XV this past weekend.
15. George Whitehead
11. Michael Killian
13. Ronnie Cooke
12. Andries Strauss (Captain)
14. Siyanda Grey
10. Demetri Catrakilis
9. Shaun Venter
1. Schalk Ferreira
2. Bandise Maku
3. Kevin Buys
6. Cornell du Preez
4. Steve Sykes (Vice Captain)
5. Rynier Bernado
7. Wimpie van der Walt
8. Jacques Engelbrecht
16. Virgile Lacombe
17. Grant Kemp
18. David Bulbring
19. Luke Watson
20. Nicolas Vergallo
21. Waylon Murray
22. Siviwe Soyizwapi