Ricochet News

Inexperienced Southern Kings need to smarten on game management

By Marc Jacobson - Sep 13, 2017
Inexperienced Southern Kings need to smarten on game management

The Southern Kings were certainly dealt a tough hand when they were thrown in deep waters when entering an elitist Guinness Pro14 competition, after suffering an approximate 25-player exodus, with just a mere three-week preparation period.

That late demise showed signs when the franchise took to Wales and Ireland in their first two games respectively, which saw them slump convincingly on both occasions, conceding a total 89 points and scoring just 20 over their first two tastes of the Celtic competition.

Understandably so though, the results comes admittedly as no surprise, with a side just assembled from the mist a month ago, to being tossed into the exotic wilderness of competitive and professional Pro14 rugby, against well-renowned, internationally-affiliated and settled oppositions. At times however, the Kings did show much promise, and that was in either half of both games.

Against Champions Scarlets two weeks ago, they initially exposed themselves with a bang, restricting the home side to a lead of just 15-10 at half-time, but then that resilience could no longer transpire, as the Kings conceded 42 unanswered points in the second half.

Last week against Ireland’s Connacht, it was rather the second half when the Eastern Capers enjoyed some improved ascendency, losing just 8-6 in the second 40 after losing 24-5 at half-time.

The Kings had just 28% territory and 27% possession in that first half against Connacht, while in the second half overturned that topple to 60% and 54% respectively. Against the Scarlets the week prior, they statistically had 50% and 46% in the first half and dropped to 37% and 31% in the second half respectively.

In both games, the Kings were evidently street-smarted in the manner to which they managed their game, and their inexperience could have counted against them on that part, for not being able to stretch their respective oppositions the whole way; to even just lose narrowly.

For that reason, the Kings did show capabilities, and already against Connacht, there were evident signs in the opening stages of the game of an improved rush defence, which sucked the Irish dry for large parts of the game.

Connacht got the upper hand in the physical facets of the game, specifically in the scrums where the Kings were not even in contention. This put huge amounts of pressure in the tight exchanges as well, as when Connacht were quick in the forward-play transitions, they found their way through the defensive lines much easier.

The home side ran in 547 running metres to the Kings’ 426, with 223 passes from hand to the Kings’ 159, indicating that their quick transition play was highly effective when their noses were sniffing.

On attack though, the Kings did have their perks, especially through fullback Masixole Banda, who ran in 112 go-forward metres in 14 runs, averaging eight-metres per run, while also making just over a quarter of his whole team’s go-forward metres.

Banda also formed a fine link in the backline, and clearly was not selfish either, with a total 14 passes from hand, the most in the side after the two scrumhalves.

Defensively, centre Luzuko Vulindlu and flanker Khaya Majola were right up there with each making a total 17 tackles throughout the game, backed up well by lock Jurie van Vuuren (16) and workmanlike eighth-man Andile Ntsila (15). Both van Vuuren and Ntsila topped the tackling count against the Scarlets, tied-up with 13 tackles each, so their defensive roles so far in the tight has been pinnacle.

Nstila was also the best attacking forward against Connacht, accumulating 58 go-forward metres in 16 runs, so his presence on the field has been paramount, which continues his industrious work-rates shown in Super Rugby earlier this year.

The positive signs that the Kings did show in their first two away matches up north could possibly be reaped, when the side play their first home game against a relatively diluted Leinster outfit at the NMB Stadium this weekend.

Leinster will be touring South Africa without Irish internationals: Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw, Sean O'Brien, Garry Ringrose, Rob Kearney, Dan Leavy, Jamie Heaslip, Richardt Strauss, Tom Daly and Tadgh Furlong, which could dampen their chances in Port Elizabeth and against the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein respectively.

However, as much as the abundance of players that are not forming part of their tour, Leinster’s squad still do not lack experience, with five of their touring players having amassed more than 50 caps and five more than 100 caps – so the Kings, who still have close to no experience, will still have a titanic task on their hands on Saturday.

Kick-off is at 14:15 against Leinster, with the Cheetahs kicking off their first home Pro14 game against Italy’s Zebre at 19:30.

Image: Southern Kings scrumhalf Godlen Masimla passing the ball from the ruck against Connacht.