They have only one win to show for their efforts so far this season and the early part of this year appears to have been a step backwards from where they were at the end of 2019 but that doesn’t mean the remainder of the Isuzu Southern Kings’ PRO14 Rugby campaign lacks relevance.
The Kings have won just once in 13 games this season and have not kicked on as was hoped when they broke their overseas duck in the competition by beating the Ospreys in Swansea last November. While early in the season they were unlucky not to win a few more games, and certainly they butchered a gilt-edged opportunity to grab a victory in the home derby against the Toyota Cheetahs, their most recent few games have seen them fall well short.
There was a marginal improvement when they returned home from an overseas tour to play Connacht in Port Elizabeth last weekend, and were still in the game up to the last 10 minutes. But they missed too many scoring chances for the liking of their head coach Robbi Kempson and the final scoreline, 29-19, needs to be seen in the perspective that Connacht were down to 14 men, and at one stage 13, for much of the game.
So where too now for the team footing the Conference B log? They have eight games to play and there is no promotion-relegation in PRO14 so it is not as if they have survival to play for. However, as Kempson points out, they do have the Eastern Cape rugby support base to satisfy and win over while at the same time building for the future.
“We have a three week break now until our next game (against Edinburgh in Port Elizabeth on 21 March) and after three tough games in a row the guys do need a break from rugby,” said Kemspon.
“It is not just physically they need a break, they also need it mentally. One of the areas we have identified that needs work is conditioning, and there will be a big focus on that when the players come back from their break. In modern rugby even when the guys are off they are given programs that they need to follow. There is a need though for heavy conditioning so that will happen when the players return.”
Kempson gave a couple of youngsters a chance to get PRO14 exposure in the match against Connacht, most notably 18-year-old Tiaan Botes, who is only a few months out of Helpmekaar High School. Botes backed up 23-year-old Siya Masuku at flyhalf against Connacht due to the injury that ruled out the experienced Demetri Catrakilis.
“You saw what we did with Tiaan and I thought it worked well. We are going to do that with more players,” said Kempson.
“We need to grow our depth so we will give more youngsters who are in our playing pool opportunities to show what they can do during the remainder of the season.”
But that in no sense means that the Kings will be softening their focus on being on the right side of the results column in their remaining eight matches.
“The most important thing is we need to win. A lot of of our supporters are angry, and understandably they have a crack at us, specifically me. Generally in modern rugby coaches don’t talk about the win but the roles in the process, but we can’t keep doing that. We need to impress upon our supporters that we are desperate to get that win for them.”
The winning imperative is shared by the team’s captain, JC Astle.
“We are very disappointed with the recent results,” said the Kings lock. “Before the game against Connacht we had nine games left, seven of them at home. After coming back from another tough tour we desperately wanted to win in front of our home fans. We know the win is the only thing the crowd wants and we need that for the people who support us. A win is also what will help us mentally.”
Astle said the squad was in a low place after a tough couple of weeks, which included two weeks overseas, but added that the three week break would be an opportunity to regroup and come back mentally refreshed for another busy sequence of matches towards the end of March and into April.