The Southern Kings can continue their Super Rugby stint with pride and confidence after their gutsy maiden victory at the weekend.
Despite playing at home, the debutants had looked destined for defeat. Their on-field pre-season preparations - the high error rate and lack of synergy in addition to the mediocre results - pointed to a baptism of fire at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
The Western Force aren’t exactly title contenders. Heck, they’re not even play-off hopefuls, and are likely to finish the season in the bottom three as they have done consistently since 2010.
However, the Perth side’s reputation shouldn’t detract from what the Kings achieved on Saturday. Love them or hate them, but you have to respect the fact that the polarising newcomers did what no other debutant franchise could.
None of the three teams who have been added to the Super Rugby fray since 2006 were able to win their debut fixtures. Like the Kings, the Cheetahs, Force and Melbourne Rebels all had home ground advantage, yet went down to the Bulls (30-18), Brumbies (25-10) and Waratahs (43-0) respectively.
Those teams, did however, bounce back from their disappointing debut defeats to a certain degree. Although both Australian franchises ended their inaugural Super Rugby campaigns as wooden spoonists, they achieved some credible results along the way.
The Force were the least successful, securing just the one win - over fellow newcomers the Cheetahs (16-14) - but they also managed admirable draws with the Crusaders (23-all) and Lions (34-all).
The Rebels registering three wins in their debut season in 2011, beating the Brumbies (25-24), Hurricanes (42-25) and Force (26-25), while the Cheetahs claimed a record five victories over the Sharks (27-26), Hurricanes (27-25), Stormers (31-25), Reds (10-6) and Lions (28-23) and a 10th-place finish.
The Kings’ position in this hierarchy remains to be seen, although despite their dream start, they will probably be on par with the Force rather than the Rebels and Cheetahs in terms of overall wins.
Yes, they are going to struggle and sure they are in for a rough ride, but one has to believe Saturday’s triumph was a sweet payoff for all involved, particularly for a rugby virtuoso like Alan Solomons, who’s dedicated himself to the resurrection of Eastern Province rugby since 2009.
Even if just for a day, the Kings had their moment in the sun. The historic occasion will live on in Eastern Province rugby folklore forever, irrespective of whether or not the Kings go on to finish the season at the bottom of the log.
By Quintin van Jaarsveld
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