By: Gavin Rich
It says something for how far the Southern Kings have travelled in a short space of time that there should have been such disappointment after they lost to the Toyota Cheetahs in their Vodacom Super Rugby finale at the weekend.
A year ago just being competitive against the Cheetahs would have been seen as an achievement. But 12 months later the Kings have achieved enough to have started the match, which was their last in the competition as they join the Cheetahs in dropping out, as clear favourites, and that explained the subdued mood among the Kings leadership afterwards.
“It is a bitter sweet evening as it was not the best way for us to say thanks for all the support we have received,” said coach Deon Davids.
The Kings had the game well in hand before a two-try burst brought the Cheetahs back into it and then their replacement flyhalf Niel Marais kicked the penalty that won it 21-20. The Cheetahs won the territory battle in the first half on a damp field, but Davids agreed afterwards that the Kings generally controlled the game until the last quarter of an hour.
“We just didn’t use our opportunities. We were the dominant team but when you do have the upper hand you have to keep the scoreboard moving or it can come back and bite you,” said Davids.
“They won the territory battle in the first half and we made a lot of mistakes. It was a real stop-start affair, and while we started off well in the second half, we didn’t round off our opportunities when they came our way like we did in the previous games. I thought we were unlucky with a few calls that went against us right at the end, but sometimes it just goes against you like that.”
Kings captain Lionel Cronje said it was a very disappointing evening and blamed his own team’s indiscipline for the defeat.
“If you consider how the Bulls came back at us last week, it was the second week running where we let ourselves down with indiscipline at the breakdowns, and I will be honest that it was very frustrating,” said Cronje.
“But I don’t think what happened in this final game can take away from what we have achieved this season. I think we have grown immensely as a team and as individuals and it was definitely my most rewarding season (in first class rugby).”
Davids said that the way forward for the Kings now that they are no longer in Super Rugby is still undecided, but he thanked the players and his support staff for the massive contribution they made during a season where the Kings performed well above expectation.
“I think there is a lot we can be proud of. We feel blessed to have experienced what we have and there was a lot of hard work put in from the beginning right through to the end. A lot of the players grabbed their opportunity and I am convinced some of them can play for the national team. There are others who will gain from the exposure in a competition like this.”