New Kings high-performance director Robbie Kempson on reviving the Eastern Province Academy and the franchise’s Pro14 performances.
What will your role as high-performance director entail?
The primary focus for me will be the Pro14 team and ensuring we make it as competitive as possible. I will also be looking to use the academy to build from the ground up, while building relationships with local universities to help keep the local players in the province.
The Kings announced that an academy will be established by the end of the year. How do you see it assisting the franchise?
Re-establishing the academy will be a slow process. We will have more of a junior high-performance structure to run alongside the franchise for the rest of the year and build the academy from there. Academies should be able to provide you with players who can solve your financial problems, as you can build from the bottom up as opposed to buying from the top down.
You will also oversee the Kings’ coaching structures. How important will transformation be in that regard?
I have been a strong advocate of transformation, with regard to players and coaches, throughout my coaching career and nothing will change. [Springbok assistant coach] Mzwandile Stick is one of the coaches I have brought through the system. There will be a strong focus on transformation of coaches.
Why have the Kings struggled to win matches in the Pro14 this season?
People don’t realise the quality of teams and players we are up against. That was underestimated by ourselves and the Cheetahs. Both franchises are going to have to bolster their squads. We need those players who are borderline international-class players. That would give us an opportunity to compete.
Kings chairperson Loyiso Dotwana said they want the team to win half their games next season. Is that a realistic goal?
We would all love to win 50 or 60% of our games, but that will be difficult.
What are your early impressions of the Kings’ private owners?
They are very ambitious. They are all local gentlemen and want to see the Eastern Cape have a prominent rugby team in an international competition. They want to try to bring a lot of our local guys home and build something that is sustainable. They want something that is long term.
EP’s U19 and U21 teams suffered humiliating defeats last year. Do you expect EP’s U20 team to be more competitive this year now that there is only one junior provincial tournament?
Not from the outset. We are starting from scratch. Our plan is to ensure we build EP rugby along with the Pro14 team and our structures get stronger. It’s not going to be a quick-fix, though.
Interview by Dylan Jack
Photo: Richard Huggard/Gallo Images