• Super Rugby preview: Kings

    The Kings’ preparations were disrupted by a financial crisis at the franchise, writes CRAIG LEWIS.

    In mid-November, Saru finally decided to take control of the Kings franchise as a result of ongoing cash-flow problems, which saw players and staff failing to receive due salary payments. It ultimately led to the departure of talented players such as Tim Whitehead, Lizo Gqoboka and Tim Agaba, and forced Saru to step in to enforce an urgent implementation plan to try to ensure the Kings would be sufficiently prepared for their re-entry to Super Rugby.

    Saru took control of the Kings with just 102 days to go until the start of the 2016 season, with a disrupted squad finding themselves in a race against time to be ready for their return to Super Rugby, which will see them kick off their campaign against the Sharks on 27 February.

    Although the Kings finished bottom of the log in their debut Super Rugby campaign in 2013, they still managed to win three games and draw one, while remaining competitive in most of their matches played at home at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

    The Kings would do well to come anywhere close to matching that sort of return this season, and although they did welcome several new players into their set-up towards the end of 2015, their recruitment process was compromised by the financial chaos that reigned. Immense courage and character will be required for the Kings to avoid becoming an embarrassing walking bonus point.

    FORWARD TO WATCH
    Steven Sykes is the senior statesman in the Kings’ set-up and a strong candidate for the captaincy following the omission of Luke Watson. Although born in the Eastern Cape, where his family farms near Cradock, Sykes forged a successful senior career at the Sharks, where he established himself as a reliable, physical second rower. However, Sykes opted to link up with the Kings ahead of their debut Super Rugby season in 2013, and has been one of the stalwarts of the side over the past couple of tumultuous years. His experience, calm temperament and leadership will be of immense value to the Kings, with the veteran having enjoyed a loan spell with the Cheetahs last season. The 31-year-old still has plenty of value to add to what will be a largely inexperienced Kings pack, and the importance of his role in the engine room cannot be underestimated this season.

    BACK TO WATCH
    Siyanda Grey is a homegrown player who represents the hotbed of black talent that the Kings ultimately aim to tap into in the Eastern Cape region. Born in Komga, and schooled at Hlumani High School, Grey has come through the youth system at the EP Kings, featuring for the EP U21 side in 2009 and 2010. He was an impressive performer in the 2011 Vodacom Cup, and IRB Nations Cup, where he emerged as the tournament’s leading try-scorer. Although the talented winger’s progress was then somewhat curtailed by a serious knee injury, he returned in time to earn inclusion in the Kings’ Super Rugby squad for their debut season in 2013. At 26, Grey is set to be one of the more senior players in a youthful Kings squad for 2016, and he will be determined to make his mark on the Super Rugby stage. Also capable of playing at centre, he will add important utility value to the Kings’ backline options.

    PLAYERS CONTRACTED BY SARU
    Thembelani Bholi
    Tom Botha
    Aidon Davis
    JP du Plessis
    Jacques Engelbrecht
    Schalk Ferreira
    Louis Fouché
    Shane Gates
    Siyanda Grey
    James Hall
    Cornell Hess
    Malcolm Jaer
    Kevin Luiters
    Edgar Marutlulle
    Tyler Paul
    Sipato Junior Pokomela
    Steven Sykes
    Cyril-John Velleman
    Elgar Watts
    Stefan Watermeyer
    Stefan Willemse

    2016 FIXTURES
    27 February: Sharks (h)
    4-5 March: BYE
    12 March: Chiefs (h)
    19 March: Crusaders (a)
    25 March: Hurricanes (a)
    2 April: Sunwolves (h)
    9 April: Bulls (h)
    15-16 April: BYE
    23 April: Lions (h)
    30 April: Jaguars (a)
    7 May: Blues (h)
    14 May: Cheetahs (a)
    21 May: Sharks (a)
    27 May: Jaguars (h)
    BREAK FOR JUNE TESTS
    2 July: Highlanders (h)
    8 July: Lions (a)
    16 July: Stormers (a)

    PREVIOUS LOG FINISHES
    Super Rugby
    2013: 15th
    2014: Did not play
    2015: Did not play
    Note: The Kings only entered Super Rugby in 2013 and did not play in 2014 and 2015

    2013 RECORD
    Won: 3 (19%)
    Lost: 12
    Draw: 1

    2013 NUMBERS THAT MATTER
    31,783  – Average home crowd (Rank 3)
    298 – Points scored (Rank 14)
    27 – Tries scored (Rank 14)
    4,821 – Metres run (Rank 15)
    69 – Clean breaks (Rank 14)
    222 – Defenders beaten (Rank 15)
    88 – Tackle success rate percentage (Rank 1)
    84 – Scrum success rate percentage (Rank 14)
    Source: Sanzar

    FAST FACT
    The running of the Kings team and control of the franchise’s finances have been taken over by an implementation task group put together by Saru

    FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER
    JP du Plessis
    @JPduPlessis13

    OTHER SA PREVIEWS
    Bulls preview
    Cheetahs preview
    Lions preview
    Sharks preview
    Stormers preview

    VIDEO: New Super Rugby format explained using Kings as example

    Photo: Marty Melville/AFP Photo

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    Craig Lewis