The Southern Kings suffered a 27-31 defeat by the Cardiff Blues in Port Elizabeth on Saturday to open their PRO14 account on a disappointing note.
In a thrilling affair at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, the new-look Kings became unstuck against a vastly experienced Blues side, with over 800 appearances within their match-day squad.
In his new role as interim coach, Robbi Kempson named six PRO14 debutants in the Kings starting lineup, with the home side getting off to a confident start thanks to an early penalty slotted by the returning Demetri Catrakilis.
The Blues responded almost immediately when Olly Robinson crashed over from a well-constructed driving maul, after successive penalties conceded by the home side.
Catrakilis popped over his second penalty before ill-discipline from the visitors on their own tryline had flyhalf Jarrod Evans sin-binned for an offside infringement.
After turning down several kickable penalties, the Kings persisted with the lineout maul and were eventually rewarded for their efforts when flank Tienie Burger crossed over for the host’s first try.
The Blues were then dealt another setback when captain Nick Williams received a yellow card for a dangerous tackle, with the Kings taking a 13-5 lead into the break.
In what was most certainly a game of two halves, four second-half tries from Liam Belcher, Matthew Morgan, Kristian Dacey and Harri Millard sneaked the Blues past a spirited Kings side, whose discipline in the final quarter cost them the game.
Tries from Stefan Ungerer and Andell Loubser, along with 12 points from the boot of the reliable Catrakilis, weren’t enough to help the Kings secure their first victory over the Blues at the third attempt.
The Blues came away with the win despite receiving three yellow cards with the Kings unable to take advantage of the opportunities they created.
The Kings, who begin their season with three home games, face another difficult assignment with the visit of Irish side Munster on 5 October.
Southern Kings – Tries: Tienie Burger, Stefan Ungerer, Andell Loubser. Conversions: Demetri Catrakilis (3). Penalty: Catrakilis (2).
Cardiff Blues – Tries: Olly Robinson, Liam Belcher, Matthew Morgan, Kristian Dacey, Harri Millard. Conversions: Jarrod Evans (3).
Southern Kings – 15 Andell Loubser, 14 Christopher Hollis, 13 Howard Mnisi, 12 JT Jackson, 11 Yaw Penxe, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Stefan Ungerer, 8 Lusanda Badiyana, 7 Bobby de Wee, 6 Tienie Burger, 5 JC Astle (c), 4 Jerry Sexton, 3 Pieter Scholtz, 2 Alandre van Rooyen, 1 Alulutho Tshakweni.
Subs: 16 Jacques du Toit, 17 Xandre Vos, 18 Rossouw De Klerk, 19 Aston Fortuin, 20 Elrigh Louw, 21 Josh Allderman, 22 Bader Pretorius, 23 Sibusiso Sithole
Cardiff Blues – 15 Matthew Morgan, 14 Jason Harries, 13 Garyn Smith, 12 Willis Halaholo, 11 Aled Summerhill, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Nick Williams (c), 7 Olly Robinson, 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Rory Thornton, 4 Seb Davies, 3 Dmitri Arhip, 2 Liam Belcher, 1 Brad Thyer.
Subs: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 20 Will Boyde, 21 Lewis Jones, 22 Jason Tovey, 23 Harri Millard.
Photo: @SouthernKingsSA Twitter