Local PRO14 Rugby participants the Isuzu Southern Kings will get an opportunity to test their depth against a near Super Rugby strength squad when the Eastern Cape franchise clashes with the DHL Stormers in a friendly in Kynsna on Friday night.
The match between the two neighbouring teams can be seen as a derby fixture and should attract a good crowd at what will be a rare opportunity to watch top rugby live for inhabitants of the popular Garden Route town.
But as Kings coach Robbi Kempson has explained, the main imperative will be for the two franchises to test their depth and assess the readiness of certain players for specific roles.
For the Kings, who are in mid-season, it is a warm-up opportunity before the first of their plum PRO14 derby fixtures against the other South African participants, the Toyota Cheetahs, in Port Elizabeth on 25 January.
The Kings recently returned from a five week hiatus over the festive season to suffer a chastening big defeat at the hands of Edinburgh at Murrayfield.
Although well beaten in a match where at one stage they were down to 12 men, the Kings did show signs of improvement in the areas, such as attack, that they professed to be working on during their mini off-season.
The Knysna game will be a good opportunity for them to develop it further without the pressure of playing for competition points.
“One or two of our players will be rested for the purpose of doing extra conditioning, and also having a couple of players coming back from injuries whom we will be able to utilise and see where they are at,” said Kempson.
“We’ll be taking a squad of about 26 players which will include some of our fringe players to see how they have adapted to how things have been going, and to see if they can make the step up should there be a need due to injury later in the PRO14 campaign. So, this will be a great opportunity to give peripheral players a good run.”
The Stormers will be playing two matches in three days this weekend as they are also involved in the Super Hero Sunday extravaganza at FNB Stadium near Soweto on Sunday.
That means the Western Cape franchise won’t quite be at full strength as their coach John Dobson has said that he will be playing a stronger team against the Sharks in the Sunday game, but his intention to give some of his Springboks a run in Knysna game should mean he will be able to field a team strong enough to pose a challenge to the Eastern Cape team.
“We do have the commitment to the Super Hero day and Siya Kolisi will be leading the side at the FNB Stadium but we do owe it to Knysna and to the integration of some of our Springboks back into the team to field a strongish team in Friday night’s game,” said Dobson earlier this week.
“Someone like (Bok prop) Frans Malherbe might not be suited to a fast paced game at altitude this soon after coming back to training and it will be less of a risk to play him in Knysna, and the same holds for some of our other senior players.”
For Kempson, the game will also present an opportunity to experiment.
“We will make a few positional switches for some guys, an example being Bader Pretorius (usually a flyhalf) getting a go at inside centre,” said the former Springbok prop.
The match will kick-off at 19h00 at Loerie Park Sports Ground in Knysna.