The Kings have not only provided plenty of on-field entertainment this season, but also proved a point by leading the way in terms of transformation, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
From day one, there has been something just a little different, and clearly a little special about this Kings squad.
In the end, no team has defied expectations quite as emphatically as the Kings this season, with the Eastern Cape side having clinched a sixth win of the season as they edged the Bulls in a thriller at Loftus last Saturday.
Afterwards, the team’s joyous celebrations spoke volumes for the culture and spirit that has been established, and which had also been aptly illustrated before kick-off when singing and dancing accompanied the team down the tunnel.
This has been the story of the Kings all year, who have smiled, and sung and danced their way through the competition from day one.
This feel-good factor perhaps owes its roots to a productive pre-season training camp, where this group of players from all walks of life – many of whom had been discarded as rugby journeymen – settled on a set of goals for the season, while pledging to establish a brotherhood of playing for one another.
That bond only strengthened as the Kings saw the fruits of their labour beginning to pay off with a win over the Sunwolves in Singapore, while an impressive tour to Australia culminated with a historic victory against the Waratahs.
All season, the Kings have thrived on this never-say-die spirit, which also came to the fore as they clinched memorable wins over the Sharks, Jaguares and now the Bulls.
As it is, Saturday's victory over the Bulls came just a day after SA Rugby formally confirmed that the Kings would no longer be involved in Super Rugby from next year, and yet even in the face of this disappointment, coach Deon Davids found a way to inspire his players to greater heights.
‘I said to [the players], if you are in the situation that we are now, this could be [one of] the last Kings teams that ever play a Super Rugby game,’ he commented after the win. ‘If people look back at this team, they will look back at the individuals in terms of the skills that they exhibited, the passion, the pride, the heart and the soul that they’ve showcased.’
Indeed, over the course of this season, Davids has not just proved his credentials as a high-class coach, but also as an outstanding motivator and man manager.
He’s brought together a group of different personalities and players, and somehow found a way to bring out the best in them. There can be no doubt he is a coach destined for higher honours.
However, one should also not overlook that the Kings have once again shone the spotlight on the abundance of black talent waiting to be tapped into in the Eastern Cape.
Transformation is always a touchy subject in South African sport, but it remains a focus area and massive priority for SA Rugby.
The governing body has unequivocally signed on to an agreement with the sports ministry to uphold certain transformation targets across all levels of the game, with the ultimate aim of achieving a 50-50 split in the Springbok side by 2019.
In the light of this, the role of the Kings has always been identified as a crucial ingredient in a recipe for transformation success. Just this season, we have seen the progression of talented players of colour such as Malcolm Jaer, Makazole Mapimpi, Andisa Ntsila and Yaw Penxe, while the likes of Luzuko Vulindlu, Wandile Mjekevu and Berton Klaasen seem to have revived their careers.
On and off the field, the Kings have proved beyond doubt that they belong in Super Rugby, while it’s also clear that they’ve made the most progressive strides when it's come to backing talented players of colour.
Unfortunately, a number of key players are now set to move on as a result of some of the uncertainty that has lingered over the team’s future, while it will be interesting to see whether Davids remains at the helm as the Kings look likely to join the Pro12 competition.
Whatever the case may be, let's take a moment to acknowledge the emphatic manner in which the Kings have proven just how good they are for South African rugby, while there is no doubt that their infectious spirit will be sorely missed in Super Rugby next year.
Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix