By: Gavin Rich
The Southern Kings lived up to their coach Deon Davids’ vow to royally entertain his team’s fans as they turned on the taps to hammer the Melbourne Rebels 44-3 in a one-sided Vodacom Super Rugby match at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Saturday night.
Perhaps the only disappointment for the Kings on a night when their attacking game hit target and all aspects of their play would have received ticks of approval, would have been the disappointing turn-out of the Eastern Cape supporters. Although a 7.30pm kick-off is not the most popular time to play on a Saturday for spectators, you would have expected more than just a few thousand people to pitch for the game after the excellent win over the Waratahs in Sydney the previous week.
The Kings would have started as favourites after their performance in the last tour match but few would have anticipated the magnitude of their win over the Melbourne side, and the overriding question afterwards revolved around just how the Sharks managed to be held to a draw by the same opponents in Durban the previous week.
Not that the poor performance of the well-beaten Rebels should detract from the excellence of the Kings. They once again laid a platform through first-phase dominance, had openside flank Chris Cloete all over the ball, defended well when they had to and produced some quite astounding handling and passing movements when they attacked.
Lionel Cronje was again an influential figure in the pivot position until he went off not long after halftime and Louis Schreuder was excellent at the base and helped the creation of at least one try. That was the third five-pointer notched by blindside flank Tyler Paul, but it was wing Makazole Mapimpi who stole the show.
The left wing made an impression on the tour of Australia, which is one of the reasons he will be playing for the Cheetahs after Super Rugby, but this was the game he really stood up and demanded to be noticed with his slippery and pacey running. He went over for his seventh try in just eight Super Rugby matches in the second half, but his contribution went way beyond his own incursion across the line.
It was he who produced the initial burst that led to Wandile Mjekevu crossing for the first try after a typically well targeted attack kick from Cronje after the captain had earlier put his team 3-0 ahead with a penalty. Cronje didn’t convert the try but the Kings were full value for their 8-0 lead after 19 minutes.
It could easily have been 15-0 to the Kings not long after that as No8 Andisa Ntsila crossed for a try that was disallowed. Reece Hodge kicked the long-range penalty to make it 8-3 but Cronje kicked his second penalty to make it 11-3 to the home side.
It was after the break that the Kings really got going, with Mapimpi featuring again in the build-up to the try completed by hooker Martin Bezuidenhout in the 43rd minute to propel the Kings into an 18-3 advantage. It was hard to see them losing from there, but when Schreuder picked up a poor tap from a Rebels defensive lineout after 57 minutes and sent in Paul for his try, that sealed it, with the question after that revolving around whether the Kings would defend the try-scoring bonus point that they had set up as theirs for the taking.
The question was answered positively by the Kings who, like the previous week, just appeared to be getting stronger the longer the match lasted.
The try rounded off by replacement flyhalf Pieter-Steyn de Wet should feature in any count out for try of the season, with the Kings players showing great running and handling skills as just about everyone touched the ball en route to a thrilling try.
Then it was Mapimpi’s chance to cap his own superb performance with a try of his own, and just for good measure the ever elusive fullback Masixole Banda dropped in for a try near the death that completed the rout and ensured that the Kings easily surpassed their highest score in Super Rugby.
It was a comprehensive victory that underlined what a crying shame it is that the Eastern Cape is not going to be represented in Super Rugby next year.
Certainly this season the franchise has backed up the claim that it could prove a fertile breeding ground for black talent, with Mapimpi being just one shining light among several in a game that should really have been better supported.
Southern Kings 44 – Tries: Wandile Mjekevu, Martin Bezuidenhout, Masixole Banda, Tyler Paul, Pieter-Steyn de Wet and Makazole Mapimpi; Conversions: Lionel Cronje and Pieter-Steyn de Wet 3; Penalties: Lionel Cronje 2.
Rebels 3 – Penalty: Reece Hodge.