Elton Jantjies will lead the Lions roar in Port Elizabeth this evening.
Jantjies, never entrusted to play his natural game with the Stormers this season, is back in an environment that favours him and with a coach and teammates that trust and respect his value as a player.
I have the Lions to win both promotion/relegation matches. And then I have them to finish 15th in the 2014 Super Rugby season. The cycle will then repeat itself until an expansion of the tournament in 2016 accommodates both the Kings and the Lions.
I have missed having the Lions in Super Rugby. They are part of the South African rugby fabric. But I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing Port Elizabeth on the Super Rugby map and the Kings have exceeded every expectation in winning three and drawing one match.
They beat two Australian teams, won one match in Australia and drew one against the Brumbies in Canberra and they beat a New Zealand team. They lost to all the South African teams but showed tremendous ticker against the Sharks (at home in losing 21-12), The Stormers in Cape Town (19-11) and in Port Elizabeth (24-12), the Cheetahs in Bloemfontein (26-12), the Cheetahs in Port Elizabeth and ran the Chiefs close in Port Elizabeth.
They were blown away by the Bulls in both games, had one total collapse (against the Tahs in Port Elizabeth) and were always going to take 50 against the Sharks in Durban when they rested 12 players in the final league game in preparation for the promotion/relegation against the Lions.
Crowd support in Port Elizabeth has been better than good. The home attendance averaged in excess of 30 000 and there was also amazing support for, especially, the Bulls, Stormers and Sharks in Port Elizabeth.
The Kings, though, are tired and beaten to a pulp after six months of Super Rugby. They don’t have the depth of player currently to sustain a competitive edge in the competition and their most experienced players Luke Watson and Andries Strauss are injured.
The South African rugby scene will be the loser for next season, with no Super Rugby in Port Elizabeth, just as it was this season with no Super Rugby in Johannesburg.
The Lions are the fresher of the two sides and have based their entire past six months on tonight and next week’s games.
I have been impressed with their performances this season. They whipped Samoa with some outstanding rugby, were dominant in the Vodacom Cup final and were excellent in beating the Sharks in June.
They have played some spectacular rugby and they are playing with confidence. Coach Johan Ackermann has shown a tremendous attitude throughout the process and the coach and players have certainly just got on with the business of playing rugby in the most difficult and uncertain conditions.
It is a credit to the quality of the individuals, just as it is to those who have laboured through Super Rugby in Port Elizabeth knowing the history making season could be put on hold for the next year or two.
There will be a winner in the next fortnight but for me there won’t be – and I’d be saying the same thing if the Kings somehow survived.
The Kings earned respect and that is what 2013 was always going to be about.
Port Elizabeth, by way of crowd support, also showed the power of the game in the region.
The Kings, in many ways, have been winners in 2013, but tonight and next week the short-term winning will belong to the Lions.
Southern Kings – 15 SP Marais, 14 Hadleigh Parkes, 13 Ronnie Cooke, 12 Shane Gates, 11 Marcello Sampson, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Jacques Engelbrecht, 7 Wimpie van der Walt, 6 Cornell du Preez, 5 David Bulbring, 4 Darron Nell (captain), 3 Kevin Buys, 2 Bandise Maku, 1 Schalk Ferreira. Subs 16 Charl du Plessis, 17 Hannes Franklin, 18 Steven Sykes, 19 Devin Oosthuizen, 20 Nicolas Vergallo, 21 George Whitehead, 22 Waylon Murray.
Lions – 15 Ruan Combrinck, 14 Deon van Rensburg, 13 Nicolaas Hanekom, 12 Dylan des Fountain, 11 Anthony Volmink, 10 Elton Jantjies, 9 Michael Bondesio, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Derick Minnie, 6 Jaco Kriel, 5 Franco van der Merwe, 4 Hendrik Roodt, 3 Julian Redelinghuys, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 JC Janse van Rensburg. Subs 16 Robbie Coetzee, 17 Ruan Dreyer, 18 Willie Britz, 19 Warwick Tecklenburg, 20 Ross Cronje, 21 Marnitz Boshoff, 22 Chrysander Botha.