Rugby: Kings look up against it; others should be competitive

Luke Watson, captain of the newest South African Super Rugby team, the Southern Kings. Photo Getty
Luke Watson, captain of the newest South African Super Rugby team, the Southern Kings. Photo Getty
The South Africans have a new team this year in the Super 15 but it is hard to see the Southern Kings making an impact. Rugby writer Steve Hepburn looks at the Kings and the four other South African sides.

The Southern Kings are about to enter the battle, but they appear to be armed with a peashooter.

The new franchise out of Port Elizabeth has been long in the making and now gets its turn on the big stage. It took years of talks and political manoeuvring before it was finally decided last year the Southern Kings would be the fifth team from the Republic, replacing the bottom-placed South African team of 2012.

So, they have come in for the woeful Lions but it may well be a straight swap: one cellar-dweller for another.

The Kings come from a place, the Eastern Cape, where rugby, especially among the black population, is strong, but that is unlikely to translate into winning results.

They have the odd good player but pre-season form, including a heavy loss to the Lions, suggests the side will struggle.

The Kings attempted to get in more foreign players but this was given the thumbs down by South African Rugby Union officials. They have brought in a New Zealander as coach - former Crusaders hooker Matt Sexton has the reins and is assisted by former Mid Canterbury first five-eighth Brad Mooar. Respected South African Alan Solomons is the director of rugby.

But for all the expertise off the field, it is on the paddock where games are won and lost and it is here the Kings are lacking.

When journeyman Auckland midfield back Hadleigh Parkes is the marquee foreign signing, things are not too rosy.

Luke Watson is an honest loose forward but the rest of the signings have that past-it or never-been look about them.

The Kings may beat the lowly Force first up this weekend but from then on, with a tough overseas trip looming, the going will be tough.

The rest of the South African sides should be competitive.

The Stormers need to find an attacking edge. They have had the best defence in the competition for years but struggle to score tries. Bryan Habana is off to Toulon after the season so will be keen to go out with a bang.

The Sharks overachieved last year in making the final and will be looking to go as far again.

They have Francois Steyn back from France full-time and he will be a great guide for Patrick Lambie. Hooker Bismarck du Plessis is not due back until April at the earliest as he recovers from a knee injury.

The Bulls will again be competitive but there is the question of whether their limited game plan will come unstuck more heavily than in previous years.

They may have to look to move the ball more often, but winning at Loftus Versfeld is never easy for visiting teams.

The Cheetahs face a month on the road after playing their first game at home and how they do on those travels may decide their destiny. Much will depend on young first five-eighth Johan Goosen and the side's ability to close out games.


How they look
Stormers
Coach:
Allister Coetzee (third year)
Captain: Jean de Villiers
Key forward: Lock Eben Etzebeth
Key back: First five Elton Jantjies
Last year: Semifinals
Prediction: Champion

Sharks
Coach:
John Plumtree (sixth year)
Captain: Keegan Daniel
Key forward: Prop Jannie du Plessis
Key back: First five Pat Lambie
Last year: Finalist
Prediction: Fifth

Bulls
Coach
: Frans Ludeke (fourth year)
Captain: Pierre Spies
Key forward: Hooker Chiliboy Ralepelle
Key back: Utility Francois Hougaard
Last year: Fifth
Prediction: Eighth

Cheetahs
Coach
: Naka Drotske (sixth year)
Captain: Adriaan Strauss
Key forward: Hooker Strauss
Key back: Halfback Sarel Pretorius
Last year: 10th
Prediction: 10th

Kings
Coach
: Matt Sexton (first year)
Captain: Luke Watson
Key forward: Loose forward Watson
Key back: First five Demetri Catrakilis
Last year: n/a
Prediction: 15th