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ANALYSIS: Southern Kings’ clinical expansive game leads to historical win over Sharks

BY MARC JACOBSON - MAY 15, 2017
ANALYSIS: Southern Kings’ clinical expansive game leads to historical win over Sharks

The Southern Kings surged to an exhilarating and historic 35-32 win over the Cell C Sharks at the NMB Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Saturday – their first victory over a fellow South African side in 19 Super Rugby attempts since the 2013 competition.

The Sharks, already weary of the Kings’ recent success, were this time not blind-sided, such that they were in Durban just over two months ago, and fielded their strongest possible line-up, including Springbok props, Beast Mtawarira and Coenie Oosthuizen, flyhalf Patrick Lambie and wing Lwazi Mvovo.

The big names in the high-flying Sharks, however, did not dampen the spirited Kings’ onslaught, who had on the day, built their stage and emoted on it too, with an overall exemplary performance, and now have three wins on the trot for the first time ever.

This coming from a union, along with the Toyota Cheetahs, who had been hinted to receiving the Super Rugby axe come 2018, but instead of lying down as door mats for opposition sides, have looked within, to become now real potential threats – and now no longer applicably SA’s worst side.

With no big names to start their 2017 Super Rugby campaign off, besides the familiars of the halfback pair, Lionel Cronje and Louis Schreuder; the Kings have transformed into something special – with new names blossoming for a breath of fresh air amongst the current toxic SA rugby landscape.

Cronje, a journeyman player left in the dark in 2016, is one player at the pinnacle of the Kings’ recent success and his form-viewing was highly anticipated against his opposite, Lambie, on Saturday.

Speaking of which, the Kings played a great aerial battle, with their first try coming straight from two successive by-kicks – the first for territory and the second for an immediate, quick line-out try.

The aforementioned half-back pairing combined well for that tactical approach, with Schreuder marking the space well on-point at the back, only to force Sharks’ fullback Ryno Smith out in touch after a pressure chase. A quick line-out then saw Cronje accurately guide the ball across the field to send winger Alshaun Bock in for a try at the corner.

With 50/50% possession, the Kings ultimately headed the territory game of 64% to the Sharks’ 36%, with the visitors often being forced to turn and retreat in their own half, after having been accosted by Cronje’s 13 tallied kicks throughout the game.

This especially shows when statistically, the Sharks were 21% on attack in their own 22-metre area alone, which is an unusual feat, seeing that team’s do not generally play the ball in their own red zone – whereas on the other side of the field, the Kings’ possessed the ball for only 9% in their own 22-metre area.

This also bodes well for the Kings’ exit plays, again giving credit to good tactical kicking, with most of the Sharks’ forced line-outs being positioned outside of the home side’s 22-metre area.

The halfback pair also linked superbly in the Kings’ second try, with Schreuder cutting away easily two defenders, before swinging it onto Cronje, who skip passed to Bock, which had by then created a gap in the Sharks’ defensive line by centre Beron Klassen – allowing Bock to gather the ball for an inward pass-and-play, which then sent Cronje in for a try right before half-time.

The Kings kept the ground hot, when right from the restart, great envision saw Schreuder break the Sharks’ defensive line, which scattered out three defenders, allowing Bock to out-flank the defence and run in for a blistering 45-metre try.  

Schreuder certainly played his part on the day with a total 48 effective passes by hand, paired with Cronje’s 16 – meaning the Kings’ had great capability of sending the ball out-wide and utilizing the space both in their attacks and in their tactical kicks.

35-year-old Bock, however, starred in all attacking facets with a total 121 running-metres in 13 carries, with four clean breaks and five defenders beaten; ultimately leading to his two tries.

At scrum time, the determined King’s front row even managed to up-end the big Springbok names in the Sharks’, which forced immediate, quick ball from scrumhalf Michael Claassens, with his total 39 passes throughout the game.

Unlike the Kings’ though, the most prominent ball-carriers in the Sharks’ outfit being their loose trio, Jean-Luc (11) and Dan du Preez (9) and Phillip van der Walt (11) and lock Ruan Botha (11), while for the Kings it was the already-mentioned Cronje (12) and Bock (13) – meaning the Durban-based side played a much tighter game.

This was especially evident in the tries scored, with the Sharks’ first try emerging from a five-metre maul, while the second descending from tight go-forward into the 22-metre area, which evidently sucked in defenders for Lwazi Mvovo to be sent out-wide for a polished try. Andisa Ntsila was exceptional on defence, making a total 17 tackles.

All but the last of the four tries from the Kings were scored from outside the 22-metre area, with the last also emerging from tight-plays, and this bodes well for the finesse shown by a side on the day, deemed as heavy underdogs.

Suddenly the Kings are depicted as the light in a never-ending dark tunnel, due to the uncertainty of their future in Super Rugby, but for now are looking riper than most of the other SA sides, bar the Lions.

The side from Port Elizabeth certainly did make a statement after beating the Sharks, both to SARU, supporters and players alike, and are to date certainly holding their futures in their own hands and in their late showing, can teach other side’s a lesson on how spirit and motivation can spark up results.

The Kings are getting a lot right, and this should be accredited for. The Kings play their next match against the Brumbies at the NMB Stadium on Saturday and good support in masses can be the first stepping-stone for giving well-deserved credit.

Image: Lionel Cronje running in for his try.