Andries Strauss believes the Southern Kings can make an immediate impact in Super Rugby next season.
Last week, it was confirmed that Cheetahs centre Strauss and Sharks lock Steven Sykes signed new deals with the Kings for 2013. They were the first recruitments to join the Eastern Cape franchise since its Super Rugby status was confirmed in August.
However, with the Kings only given a one-year guarantee in the competition, it’s believed that they will struggle to build a competitive squad as players would be hesitant to commit to a team that is likely to face relegation (the last-placed South African franchise will face the Lions in two rounds of promotion-relegation play-offs).
But Strauss reckons this belief could change.
‘Seeing a guy like Steven Sykes signing for the Kings motivated me to join them,’ Strauss told keo.co.za. ‘His addition proved that the Kings will be able to sign the players needed to do well next season. Hopefully more players will start making the same move too.
‘I also see it as a good career move for me,’ he continued. ‘I’ve struggled with form during my time with the Cheetahs. I think I can play better rugby. A different scenery at the Kings could be the change I need to improve.’
It will be a tough challenge for the Kings next year.
Super Rugby trends have proven that franchises struggle in their debut campaigns. The Western Force and Melbourne Rebels were the wooden spoonists after their first runs in 2006 and 2011 respectively, and continue to finish in the bottom-half of the table. The Cheetahs and Lions have also disappointed since their split from the Cats initiative six years ago.
The Kings will also have to deal with Saru’s expectation of notable transformation in team selections. Out of the 51 players the EP Kings have fielded in the Currie Cup First Division so far, 15 have been players of colour.
However, Strauss believes the Kings will manage if they recruit smartly.
‘The rumours that the Kings might sign a few Argentine players is promising,’ said Strauss. ‘Experience, especially international experience, is vital for any team.
‘There are only so many Springboks, and most of them are signed to the bigger franchises. So getting in some players, who boast international experience, will help the team do well, and they’ll be able to pass on their knowledge to the younger guys.
‘I know the Force and Rebels didn’t do well in their first couple of seasons, but the Kings have a better platform to work from. They’re not working from scratch. A guy like [Kings director of rugby] Alan Solomons has been with the team for a while now.
‘So the Kings can do well. I think it’s possible to avoid last place in the South African conference if the correct steps are taken.’
By Gareth Duncan