Isuzu Southern Kings coach Robbi Kempson returned to Port Elizabeth from Bloemfontein at the weekend disappointed that his men had been so comprehensively outplayed by the Toyota Cheetahs but definitely not unbowed or deflated.
After playing so well in the first round PRO14 Rugby derby against their South African rivals in Port Elizabeth the previous week, with many observers feeling they were unlucky to lose, Kempson would have hoped for more from the return match than a comprehensive 45-0 defeat.
Kempson was in a philosophical mood rather than a disconsolate one in reflecting on the seven try to nil rout after the Bloemfontein game. He reasoned that playing the Cheetahs on their home field was a tough ask and that small things had gone against his team from the off that made the task even more difficult.
But with the next challenge of a two match away tour looming large, Kempson knows there is plenty to play for and he knows it would be fatal for a team that has shown positive signs of growth in the past few months to lose heart. The former Springbok prop would prefer them to be heartened by the improvements that shone through in the first derby showing rather than disheartened by what followed seven days later.
“It will not be too difficult to get up after this as we have a strong leadership group,” said Kempson.
“We have meetings with the player group at the start of every week and the discussion will be about how we get the guys back on their feet. We have a good group of fairly experienced players who want to perform and are hungry to do well so I really don’t think it will be difficult to get them up.
“We produced a really good performance in the first game against the Cheetahs and should have won that game so we know we can do it and there won’t be any lack of belief. We just need to learn to turn in the good performances more consistently.”
Kempson has some bad luck this season with injury and this past weekend was no different, with flyhalf Bader Pretorius, who was starting to show signs of growth at pivot after getting his chance when JT Jackson moved to inside centre to cover for the injured Howard Mnisi, joining his list of crocked players.
Yet while Pretorius’ leg injury was a cruel blow for him, it at least coincides with the return to fitness of Demetri Catrakilis. Out since early in the season, the experienced and well travelled Catrakilis came onto the field as a replacement in Bloemfontein too late to make any impact on the Kings’ chances of winning, but the addition of his experience will be a boost for the Kings ahead of their tour.
“I am very happy to have Demetri back, he came through the odd minutes he had on the field (in Bloemfontein) very well,” said Kempson.
“It was very unfortunate for Bader and he will definitely be out of the tour.”
Also missing the tour through injuries sustained in Bloemfontein are Jackson, prop Cameron Dawson and star wing Yaw Penxe.
The Kings play Munster on Valentine’s Day and Scarlets on 23 February before returning to South Africa for an extended run of home games that include the visits of Connacht on 1 March, Edinburgh on 21 March, champions Leinster six days after that and then the return match against Scarlets on Easter Saturday, 11 April.