Southern Kings hooker, Michael Willemse, will lead the Port Elizabeth side on their maiden Guinness PRO14 tour.
Head coach Deon Davids announced his 27-man touring squad on Monday that will open their Guinness PRO14 season with an encounter against defending champions, the Scarlets, in Wales before travelling to Ireland to take on Connacht and confirmed the hard-working Willemse as captain for the tour.
In confirming the 24-year-old Willemse as the first Southern Kings captain in the Guinness PRO14 Championship, Davids described the decision to select the hooker as the team leader as a “natural” one.
Willemse, who was part of the Southern Kings’ Vodacom Super Rugby side earlier in the year, re-joined the Eastern Cape side after having moved to the Golden Lions in July.
“I have decided that Michael Willemse will lead this group on this tour,” Davids said on Monday.
“He re-joined us and has been with us for about a week. Mike is quite familiar with our team culture and the way we play.
“I think he was one of the standout performers for us last season in the Vodacom Super Rugby competition. He is one of our core group of players that are still part of our setup. He has been a natural choice for me to take up that role as captain.”
Willemse joined the Southern Kings for the 2017 Vodacom Super Rugby season after having represented the Stormers from 2014 to 2016.
The Cape Town-born hooker has previously represented South Africa at Under-20 level at the World Rugby Under-20 Champs in 2013 where he made five appearances.
The 1.85-metre, 104 kg front-rower attended Grey High School in Port Elizabeth before furthering his rugby at the University of Cape Town prior to joining Western Province.
Davids also named a 27-member squad for the tour – 15 forwards and 12 backs – including 10 players who were part of the Southern Kings’ Vodacom Super Rugby campaign.
The squad is also not lacking in players with experience in playing in the Guinness PRO14 competition.
Loose-forward Dries van Schalkwyk, formerly with Zebre, and Rossouw de Klerk, formerly with Glasgow Warriors, are part of the Southern Kings’ touring squad.
Davids is looking forward to seeing his squad gel and grow together from their first tour of the Guinness PRO14.
“There are always positives when you go on tour so early – you get to spend some time with the players individually, and the players also get to know each other better. So there will be a lot of benefits from this tour,” the head coach said.
“When we come back we will have 27 players who will have a good understanding of where we are and where we need to go. Players that are staying behind will have time to work on aspects of their game – whether it is conditioning or skills. When we get back we will suddenly have a larger pool of players we can work with.”
The touring squad will leave South Africa on Tuesday afternoon for Wales, where they will face the Scarlets on Saturday, September 2, at Parc y Scarlets.
Davids will name the Southern Kings match-day squad for the opening match on Thursday.
The Southern Kings Guinness PRO14 touring squad for Wales and Ireland is:
Tango Balekile Masixole Banda
Stephan Coetzee Kurt Coleman
Rossouw de Klerk Ntabeni Dukisa
Bobby de Wee Rowan Gouws
Martin Dreyer Berton Klaasen
Schalk Ferreira Godlen Masimla
Khaya Majola Jacques Nel
Siyabulela Mdaka Yaw Penxe
Andisa Ntsila Sibusiso Sithole
Luvuyo Pupuma Rudi van Rooyen
Victor Sekekete Luzuko Vulindlu
Entienne Swanepoel Oliver Zono
Dries van Schalkwyk
Jurie van Vuuren
Michael Willemse (capt)