Thinus Delport: The Southern Kings and the Lions are fighting for their future
Last Updated: 25/07/13 12:54pm
The Southern Kings, who replaced the Lions in the Super Rugby competition this year, have had only one season to make their mark. And, as far as debuts go, the Eastern Cape franchise has not done too badly.
They may have finished bottom of the table but they won three games against the Highlanders, Western Force and the Rebels as well as superb draw against the Brumbies. The support for the Kings has been phenomenal as the crowds have packed out the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth.
However all that good work on and off the field may count for nothing if they do not get another season in the Super rugby competition.
In their current guise as the Lions (formerly they played Super 12 as Transvaal and Super 14 as the Cats) the Gauteng based side had seven years to stake their claim in the Super Rugby competition. However they never finished higher than 12th position. They are desperate to get back into Super Rugby and the future of both franchises will be decided over two weekends when they clash - home and away - to decide who will be the fifth South African team in 2014.
And while the Lions may not be used to the intensity of Super Rugby, Thinus Delport believes that they will adapt very quickly.
"The pace and the intensity of Super Rugby is always going to be a major factor and the result of these two play-offs could be decided on how quickly the Lions can adjust to the pace that the Kings are used too," said the former Springbok and Lions fullback.
"The Lions do have a couple of player back for these games who have had Super Rugby experience this season. Elton Jantjies is going to be massively important for them - he played for the Stormers in their campaign and while he did not have the best of seasons, he did play a part in their recent rejuvenation which saw the Stormers win their last five games.
"Now he is back in his comfort zone with the Lions and has played well with this team in the past. Martin Bezuidenhout is also back from the Stormers as is Franco van der Merwe who was loaned to the Sharks for their Super Rugby campaign. The Lions have also had some serious injury concerns but as well as welcoming back their Super Rugby players, they also have the likes of Derick Minnie, Warren Whiteley JC Janse van Rensburg back in action.
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"I don't think the Lions will take too long to adjust to the pace, they are a pretty strong outfit and they had a comprehensive win over Samoa - albeit they were missing some of their French players. They also beat a Bulls invitational XV side and most recently they beat the Griquas Currie Cup team."
Lack of leaders
The Kings have impressed Delport in their first season of top-flight rugby and even without key leaders on the field, thinks that they will still pose a problem for the Lions.
"It was a relatively successful season for them; I think they went far better than people expected getting three wins when nobody gave them a chance of winning one game.
"I think the most important factor surrounding the Kings has been the support they have received. The crowds at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium have been absolutely brilliant and it will be a real shame if they are not able to support their team in Super Rugby going forward.
"They will go into this game without their first choice leaders as Luke Watson and Andries Strauss are both out with injuries. But they do have the Super Rugby experience and have had some good results. They are a good defensive team in terms of frustrating the opposition at the breakdown and they work hard for each other in terms of scramble defence and on attack they have a strong driving maul.
"They will really look to make the most of their maul and then they will be relying on the boot of Demetri Catrakilis. They are seasoned campaigners now and will be looking to frustrate the Lions as much as they can."
The winner will be decided by log points rather than an aggregate score over the two matches but Delport says that the Kings' inability to score tries away from the rolling maul will not be a problem.
"The Kings have not really showing that they can score tries but the level of defences that they have played against compared to what the Lions are used too are totally different - at Super Rugby level defences are much more organised and physical. They will be looking for the win first of all before they look at possible bonus point tries.
"Another issue which could upset the Kings' preparations are the rumours surrounding their Director of Rugby. Alan Solomons has been linked with Edinburgh Rugby next season and while it is only speculation at this stage, off the field talks could have major implications on what happens on the field. You really need to have a happy and stable environment when you approaching key games like these."
"The result of the play-offs will have a major impact on how these two franchises develop in the future. Relegation from any top tier tournament not only has massive financial implications but recruitment and development suffers if you do not play at the top level. For both sides it is massive for them to retain or regain Super Rugby status for next year."
Southern Kings v Golden Lions, Fri 26 July, 6pm, Sky Sports 4 HD
Golden Lions v Southern Kings, Sat 03 August, 1pm (subject to change), Sky Sports 4 HD