Kings of the cas­tle? Sur­vival time

The Star Late Edition - - SPORT - VATA NGOBENI JAC­QUES VAN DER WESTHUYZEN

FAR AWAY from the board­rooms that have been a stum­bling block since their in­cep­tion, the South­ern Kings have been hard at work in the pre-sea­son not only to re­store their dig­nity but to fight for sur­vival in Su­per Rugby as well.

With spec­u­la­tion com­ing out of Sanzaar’s high­est of­fice that the fu­ture of the com­pe­ti­tion could be with­out two fran­chises of the cur­rent 18 teams, the Kings find them­selves in a bat­tle on many fronts to prove their worth and long-term sus­tain­abil­ity.

How­ever, ad­ver­sity has been the life blood that has kept the Kings alive all these years and their re­silience and fight­ing spirit will again be the cor­ner­stone of their cam­paign.

For the first time since the be­gin­ning of last year, Kings coach Deon Davids has been able to get through an en­tire pre-sea­son sched­ule and man­aged to squeeze in two friendlies – against neigh­bours Bor­der Bull­dogs (28-10) and the South Western Districts Ea­gles (42-25).

The Kings’ low key prepa­ra­tions could have some­thing to do with their hec­tic trav­el­ling sched­ule at the be­gin­ning of the com­pe­ti­tion. They take on the Jaguares in Port El­iz­a­beth in their first match, then travel to Sin­ga­pore to face the Sun­wolves and return home to play the Storm­ers fol­lowed by a short hop to Dur­ban to face the Sharks.

“We have been train­ing hard and it looks good on the train­ing field. We need to con­vert all of that onto the play­ing field. We are ready. Our off-sea­son was very good. We are on the right track,” said Kings util­ity back Siyanda Grey.

Af­ter en­joy­ing a break­through sea­son in the Kings’ first year of Su­per Rugby in 2013, Grey’s progress has been stunted by a string of ca­reer-threat­en­ing in­juries but the for­mer Grey High School pupil seems to be over his in­juries and is look­ing at mak­ing a con­tri­bu­tion to the Kings suc­cess this sea­son. Grey will form part of a cred­i­ble Kings squad that in­clude the likes of Ju­nior Spring­bok Wandile Mjekevu, for­mer Storm­ers scrumhalf Louis Schreuder, for­mer Bulls, Brumbies and Sharks fly­half Lionel Cronjé and up-and­com­ing stars Chris Cloete, Them­be­lani Bholi, Mal­colm Jaer and CJ Velle­man, all of whom will look to im­prove the team’s for­tunes from last year. “I can’t com­pare last year to this year. Ev­ery­thing is in place, and we are look­ing good,” said Grey.

“We have pre­pared well, and it has been good so far. We are fo­cus­ing on win­ning our home games, more im­por­tantly. I do think we will do bet­ter.”

Davids will ex­pect his side to do bet­ter as most of his squad mem­bers are likely to be fit and avail­able for se­lec­tion.

How­ever, Velle­man will re­main on the side­lines un­til April as he re­cov­ers from a knee in­jury while prop Dayan van der Westhuizen looks set to miss out on the be­gin­ning of the sea­son as he con­tin­ues to un­dergo re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion for a foot in­jury.

Irne Herbst, Cloete and Neil Maritz sus­tained con­cus­sions dur­ing train­ing while fly­half Pi­eter-Steyn de Wet sus­tained a con­cus­sion dur­ing the Kings’ win against the Ea­gles but are all likely to be fit ahead of next week’s sea­son opener.

“We are for­tu­nate not to have se­ri­ous in­juries af­ter our pre-sea­son matches. The four play­ers who sus­tained con­cus­sions are mak­ing good progress as they go through the return-to-play pro­to­col. At this stage we are hope­ful that all the play­ers will be avail­able for our first Su­per Rugby match against the Jaguares,” team doc­tor Kon­rad von Ha­gen said.

Davids will name his team’s cap­tain to­day with vet­eran prop Schalk Fer­reira the fron­trun­ner to lead the side. NOTH­ING will take away the dis­ap­point­ment of miss­ing out on Su­per Rugby this year, and pos­si­bly never play­ing the game again, but at least Ju­lian Redel­inghuys will know ev­ery­thing he did in a Lions jersey in 2016 was ap­pre­ci­ated.

The tight­head prop was last night named the union’s Player of the Year af­ter stel­lar show­ings in Su­per Rugby, the Cur­rie Cup and for the Spring­boks.

He will, how­ever, sadly not be able to build on his con­sis­tent per­for­mances af­ter a se­ri­ous neck in­jury in the lat­ter stages of the Cur­rie Cup forced him out of the game for this year.

But af­ter win­ning this award, Redel­inghuys will be mo­ti­vated to return to the game he loves so much.

“I’m ex­tremely pas­sion­ate about rugby,” he said in an in­ter­view with The Star re­cently.

The 27-year-old is slowly build­ing up the strength in his neck and left arm af­ter hav­ing surgery to fuse his ver­te­brae at C5 and 6 level.

He beat sev­eral equally de­serv­ing team­mates, such as Mal­colm Marx, Franco Mostert, Jaco Kriel, War­ren White­ley, El­ton Jan­tjies and Ro­han Janse van Rens­burg to the union’s top award.

The Play­ers’ Player of the Year award went to hooker Marx who is in line to be­come a na­tional team reg­u­lar this sea­son, while the Sup­port­ers’ Player of the Year award went to promis­ing cen­tre Ro­han Janse van Rens­burg.

Su­per Rugby stal­warts, Mostert, White­ley and Jan­tjies were all hon­oured for their con­tri­bu­tions in help­ing the team reach the fi­nal for the first time, while Cur­rie Cup stars An­thony Volmink, Ruan Ack­er­mann and Jac­ques Nel picked up awards for their per­for­mances in the do­mes­tic com­pe­ti­tion. The Lions kick off their Su­per Rugby chal­lenge against the Chee­tahs in Bloem­fontein next Satur­day. CUR­RIE CUP For­ward: Ruan Ack­er­mann; Back­line: An­thony Volmink; Player of the Year: Jac­ques Nel SU­PER RUGBY For­ward: Franco Mostert; Back­line: El­ton Jan­tjies; Player of the Year: War­ren White­ley GOLDEN LIONS AWARDS Sup­port­ers’ Player of the Year: Ro­han Janse van Rens­burg; Play­ers’ Player of the Year: Mal­colm Marx; Player of the Year: Ju­lian Redel­inghuys

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