Royal energy lends pre-season some punch

JON CARDINELLI writes that the Southern Kings’ passion and intensity make for enjoyable viewing during this dreary pre-season period.

The build up to Super Rugby and the Currie Cup can be painful. The intensity and drive to win is hardly apparent, as results simply don’t matter. Coaches are more concerned with developing combinations and establishing synergy before the tournament proper. Mistakes are commonplace, the game has little flow, and spectators leave games underwhelmed.

Friday’s match at Newlands was a prime example. You can’t fault the Lions and Stormers for their approach at this point of the season, but nobody’s going to remember this Tri-Series for captivating rugby.

The game in Port Elizabeth, however, was a real contest. The team that harboured modest ambitions of staying competitive in these exhibition matches went above and beyond. They beat a Bulls’ second-string side comfortably, and beat them through no small measure of passion and intensity.

That the Bulls were missing a number of stars shouldn’t detract from the Kings’ effort. The Bulls brand is world famous, and its depth renowned, so to strike a blow against that is no mean feat.

While it doesn’t mean the Bulls will struggle in the coming competition, it does suggest the Kings are on the right track. They were impressive at the scrum and troubled the Bulls’ lineout. They outclassed the Bulls at the breakdown, and overall, there was a pace and intensity to the Kings that made a nothing game into a spectacle.

The performance wasn’t without fault though, as the hosts were guilty of their own mistakes. Their handling let them down on occasion, and they’ll need to sharpen up before their next two matches against the Cheetahs (4 February) and Lions (11 February). There’s everything to play for in these fixtures, as this is in effect their second-most important ‘tournament’ after the promotion-relegation scrap for premier Currie Cup status.

The Cheetahs and Lions will use these matches to develop their squads, but they will also be out to prove why they deserve Super Rugby status ahead of the Kings. The Eastern Cape franchise has been promised a place in the 2013 competition, and if Super Rugby fails to expand beyond a 15-team tournament, there could be a move towards a promotion-relegation system. Based on their poor performances in recent years, one of the Cheetahs or Lions would fall away.

There are people who believe the Kings could do no worse than the Cheetahs or Lions, and deserve an opportunity. While there’s still two years before this debate comes to a head, the matches over the next two weeks will be watched with great interest.

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