Coach Deon Davids has committed to rebuilding the Europe-bound Kings over the next three seasons. JON CARDINELLI reports.
The Kings played an exciting, yet pragmatic brand of rugby in the 2017 Super Rugby tournament. They scored inaugural wins against the Bulls, Sharks, Waratahs and Jaguares (in Buenos Aires) and ultimately finished ahead of the Bulls and Cheetahs in the standings for the first time.
The decision to axe the Kings from Super Rugby has hit the Eastern Cape franchise hard. As reported by SARugbymag.co.za on Thursday, players such as Malcolm Jaer and Makazole Mapimpi (both Cheetahs), Tyler Paul and Ross Geldenhuys (both Sharks), Chris Cloete (Munster), Lionel Cronjé (Verblitz) and Wilhelm van der Sluys (Exeter Chiefs) have all opted to further their careers elsewhere.
There is hope for the Kings, though, as the side has been granted a place in the Pro14. That said, the Kings face significant challenges ahead of their first game against the Scarlets in Llanelli on 2 September.
The good news is that Davids, the man who transformed the team into a competitive Super Rugby outfit in a relatively short space of time, will remain at the helm.
'That's the agreement, to remain with the side for the next three years,' Davids told SARugbymag.co.za at the Pro14 launch in Cape Town on Friday. 'That will give me the chance to put some structures in place and build a team.'
The bad news is that Davids will have to start from scratch ahead of the 2017-18 Pro14 tournament.
'We've been in this position before,' he said with a laugh. 'I guess we will have to do it all again.
'We've retained about 15 players from our original squad. We've lost a lot of quality, and will have to act quickly if we're going to build a new team core. I will be reaching out to the different franchises to see if any players are available. It's going to be hard to get players now, though, because so many of them are already contracted and settled at other unions.
'We won't have the luxury of going into the new competition with combinations or momentum.'
The Kings will also need to fill several positions in the backroom staff, as analyst Lindsay Weyer and team doctor Konrad von Hagen have joined the Springbok management. Not much should be expected of this Eastern Cape side in their debut season in the Pro14.
That said, Davids remains optimistic about the Kings' future in this tournament.
'I want to get players contracted for the next two years,' he said. 'It would be great to have the opportunity to build something special. I think people also need to understand what it's going to take to grow the game in South Africa.
'Of course, you have to try and get things right across the board. You need to have the junior and academy structures functioning well to ensure that there is sustainability at the higher levels.
'We will need to focus on that. There needs to be a good base. You want to be in a position to bring the youngsters through when the time is right.
'It's not going to be easy this season,' he added. 'But this is the challenge that has been given to us, and we are looking at the bigger picture. There are a lot of positives in this move.'
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