We start our preview to this year’s Vodacom Super Rugby with the Southern Kings who are in their second year after returning to Super Rugby in 2016.
Last year was not a great year on and off the field for EP Kings and the Southern Kings but with some great work being done in the off season they have require a few quality players who has moved to the Franchise for the 2017 season.
SARU took charge of the franchise before the start of the 2016 season and are still running the franchise and providing the coaches to steer the Kings in the right direction.
From the four standout players last year only Chris Cloete remains on loan from the Pumas with Marutlulle, Sykes and Fouche moving on to other clubs and franchises for this season.
The Kings finished bottom of the four teams in the Africa 2 Conference, seventh in the South African Group and 17th overall, with just the Japanese Sunwolves team finishing the season with a worse record.
The Kings coaching staff have already said in December that fitness and conditioning will be one of the high priorities this season and that they want the Kings to be the fittest Super Rugby side.
They have just come back from a two and a half weeks break after an intense pre-season training program before Christmas.
The pre-season training have been down into three phases. The side is finished the second phase of their programme just before Christmas.
Southern Kings conditioning coach Nadus Nieuwoudt was pleased with the way preparations have been going. While the side have been on a break, the hard work off the field continued to ensure the team is fit when they re-group in January.
The Kings will have some players coming from the roots in the Southern Cape this year which includes the talented Tango Balekile.
The 20-year-old Balekile, a mobile hooker and product of Selborne College in East London, represented South Africa at the World Rugby’s Under-20 Championship in England this year, after which he played for Eastern Province in SA Rugby’s U21 Provincial Champs.
After representing Border at U16 and U18 levels from 2012 to 2014, Balekile moved to the EP Academy and earlier last season he got his first taste of senior rugby in the Currie Cup qualifiers.
Lionel Cronje, have also been drafted into the Southern Kings’ squad. Cronje, from Queen’s College in Queenstown in the Eastern Cape, will bring invaluable experience to the Southern Kings’ backline, predominantly from flyhalf.
Deon Davids, head coach of the Southern Kings, said: “We’ve been watching Tango with a keen interest this year and we know he’s ready to make the step up to the next level. It’s great that he’s decided to stay in Port Elizabeth.
“We have many promising youngsters in our squad, which makes the addition of Lionel very important, as he’ll bring experience and a cool head to a very important position in the backline.”
Furthermore, four players will be on loan with the Southern Kings in 2017. They are Ntabeni Dukisa from Border, as well as the Griquas trio of Mzwanele Zito, Alshaun Bock and Rudi (Poerie) van Rooyen.
“All four these players have experience at senior provincial level throughout South Africa and it’s great to have them available for the Kings next year,” said Davids.
Davids said two more players from the EP Academy have been invited to train with the Southern Kings’ extended squad and still have a great opportunity to claim places in the final squad. They are Lusanda Badiyana (flank) and David Murray (prop).
The Kings have also some experience players that joined the franchise for this season starting with Schalk van der Merwe. The 25-year-old Van der Merwe’s most recent playing stint was with Montpellier in France, but he has previously played provincial rugby for the Cheetahs, Griffons and Golden Lions.
Davids also confirmed that two outside backs from the Sharks, former Junior Springbok Wandile Mjekevu and Neil Maritz, will be available for the Southern Kings.
Border stars Masixole Banda (flyhalf), the recently named Currie Cup First Division Player of the Year, and Makazole Mapimpi (wing), as well as former Junior Springbok prop Dayan van der Westhuizen, from the Blue Bulls, have joined them on loan
One of their biggest names they secured for the 2017 season is that of Ross Geldenhuys who have moved from the Highlanders to the Kings for the 2017 season.
“I’m enjoying my rugby at the moment and I hope to cement a starting berth at the Southern Kings, as I’ve really enjoyed playing in the run-on team for Tasman this year,” said Geldenhuys.
“I’ve worked extremely hard in the last couple of years and I’m probably fitter and stronger than ever before. I know I still have a number of seasons left in me and I’m excited to be returning to South Africa.”
Players to watch:
CJ Velleman was last year on of the top flankers in South Africa and we can expect some great form once again when he returns from injury.
Velleman has come through the system in the Eastern Cape captaining Grey High Schoolfor two years. Played Craven week for EP twice and went on to represent the Madibaz at Varsity Cup and EP Kings.
His work rate has been outstanding last year before his injury and there was even some talk of him getting higher honours.
Tango Balekile is one of the exciting youngsters coming through in the country and has been identified at a young age for the bigger stage. He represented Border in both U16 and U 18 level and had his first state of Currie Cup last year.
The next step will be crucial for his development and one that we will be following closely.
Ricky Schroeder is a product from Western Province. He represented WP at U16 and U 18 level at Craven week and was captain of the WP U19 team with players like Etzebeth, Malherbe, Kolisi who eventually won the title in 2010 against the Blue Bulls.
He also won gold with UCT Ikey Tigers 2011. Ricky is a nippy number 9 and are equipped with great abilities to dictate a game.
Dayan van der Westhuizen played U16 Week for Border but moved to Pretoria and represented the Blue Bulls at U18 Craven week for 2011 and 2012. He was called up to represent South African Schools in 2012 as well.
Dayan represented the Blue Bulls at U19 Level and was part of the SA U20 squad that played the World Championship in New Zealand. He also represented Tuks at Varsity level and was named part of the Varsity Dream Team at the end of 2015.
This year Dayan can make his name at Super Rugby level with the Kings as he is on loan from the Blue Bulls.
The Kings Full Extended Squad for 2017….
Southern Kings Fixtures for 2017…
Players with injury concerns…
The whole squad returned to training this week and after accessing the players, team doctor Konrad von Hagen was pleased to report that there were no new injuries.
Players on the injury list are as follow:
- Sintu Manjezi (knee) is on track and is expected to make a full recovery at the end of the month.
- Chris Cloete (knee) is on track and is expected to make a full recovery at the end of the month.
- CJ Velleman (knee) is expected to make a full recovery in April
- Tango Balekile (shoulder) is on track and is expected to make a full recovery at the end of the month.
- Tyler Paul (shoulder) is on track and is expected to make a full recovery at the end of the month.
- Malcolm Jaer (hamstring) sustained a hamstring injury during his time with the SA Sevens, he is on track and is expected to make a full recovery in two weeks.
- Wandile Mjekevu (foot) is on track and is expected to make a full recovery at the end of the month.
Tournament Prediction: The Southern Kings biggest concern will be injuries and quality replacements for those injuries.
The Super Rugby tournament is not a sprint but a marathon and although I believe they will do much better than last year, I cannot see that they will be one of the teams to watch from a SA perspective.
They are not playing the New Zealand teams which helps but will be at the bottom of the South African teams for me.