Long live the Kings

MARK KEOHANE, in Business Day, writes the Kings turned a night of potential ruin into a night to remember.

They played in black but it was all Grey when it came to the Southern Kings historic and winning Super Rugby debut in Port Elizabeth.

Grey High School, academically and culturally strong, is also Port Elizabeth’s most renowned sporting and rugby institution.

Kings Director of Rugby Alan Solomons was schooled at Grey. Kings captain Luke Watson went to Grey and Saturday night’s two-try wing wonder Sergeal Petersen finished matric at Grey High just three months ago. The past, present and future of the region were all primary to a victory for the Southern and Eastern Cape, for South African rugby and for the country.

This was indeed a victory for the locals made possible by locals. It was a momentous occasion that demanded celebration and the necessary outpouring of emotion.

The Kings, as a squad, are limited in pedigree but not in passion.

The haters of the Kings called the team an embarrassment to South African rugby. This was before kick-off.

Those haters again displayed every quality of a bully and coward and stayed clear of social media forums on Saturday night. They would have taken the Kings 22-10 win against Australia’s Western Force personally. It is their way.

The haters will be back this week with boasts that the Kings won’t win again this season. This distorted thinking will give credence to their vindictiveness.

The haters don’t see the Lions winning 15 from 90 Super Rugby matches and losing 17 in succession as an embarrassment. The haters don’t recall the Bulls winning two out of 22 matches in Heyneke Meyer’s first two years as a Super Rugby coach. The haters don’t remember the Cheetahs, Lions, Sharks, Cats, Stormers and Bulls all taking 50-plus point beatings in the history of the tournament.

Never have so many South Africans done such a disservice to a South African Rugby franchise.

The argument that Super Rugby participation has to be earned is flawed. How did the Rebels and Force earn the right to play in the competition? They were included to grow the game in Australia.

The Sharks (as Natal) were given Currie Cup status in an expanded structure and went onto become the most successful South African province a decade later.

Griquas and the Pumas, as two examples, were given Currie Cup status by way of another expansion from six to eight teams.

The Kings were reluctantly and resentfully officially declared participants in the 2013 Super Rugby season in August 2012, and there was no guarantee beyond one season.

Few players of Super Rugby quality were willing to leave other provinces in South Africa or return from Europe to play for a region in which uncertainty was the only certainty.

It was assumed – among the anti Kings’ contingent – that the shame of defeat in every match would dull enthusiasm for Super Rugby in the region. It was never a consideration the Kings would lead the South African Conference after the first round of matches.

The Kings on a historic night in our rugby played without a jersey sponsor. They were made to feel like paupers.

They were treated like renegades and played like revolutionaries. They turned a night of potential ruin into a night to remember.

Brumbies loose-forward David Pocock tweeted his best wishes to the Southern Kings on Saturday afternoon and wished them all the best.

The Zimbabwean-born captain of the Wallabies, a man of integrity and substance, who has never forgotten his African roots and who once tweeted he never missed an issue of South African Rugby Magazine as a youngster, cared enough to known what the Kings would mean to the future of the game in Southern Africa.

Pocock, in 140 characters, showed more goodwill to the Kings than the National Governing Body has done in the last 140 months.

Cheeky Watson, an activist against apartheid in South Africa, continues to fight apartheid in South African Rugby. He refused and refuses to compromise on the Kings’ presence in a unified South African Rugby landscape.

It makes him unpopular to a cultural minority. So too Solomons, who four years ago committed to a 10 year plan to restore rugby’s respect within the region.

One of the greatest nights in our unified rugby history was also the saddest because it showed – not how far we have come in unity – but just how far we need to go.

All hail the Kings. Long live the Kings.