Contracts squeeze could see Kings climb

Southern Kings to go down? (Gallo Images)
Southern Kings to go down? (Gallo Images)

The much-maligned Southern Kings, not exactly a powerhouse at the best of times in their roughly decade-long existence, have hardly been helped over the years by damaging waves of player exoduses just as they’ve seemed set to turn a corner or two.

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It is a sad part of history now that, in separate spells in Super Rugby under the close tutelage of Alan Solomons and later Deon Davids, they began to look like the right stuff at that level before major surrender of playing staff, each time, severely hobbled their goals.

But now a combination of the slimmed-down lists of contracted players by major franchises in South Africa and the general uncertainties caused by the coronavirus crisis (likely to cause even previously cash-flush overseas clubs to rein in their spending on overseas recruits) is just beginning to play nicely into the hands of the Kings.

In short, the now PRO14-housed outfit are striking deals with players who have drifted just a little to the periphery of certain Super Rugby squads under the altered model in cash-challenged times.

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Weekend reports have indicated, for example, that the Kings have reached agreement with Cameron Wright, the Sharks scrumhalf who has slipped a little in their pecking order as their early-season surge was characterised overwhelmingly by deployment of veteran Louis Schreuder in the berth, with massively promising, 21-year-old Sanele Nohamba as his understudy and impact presence on the bench.

But the effervescent Wright, 26, has shown on plenty of prior occasions that he cuts it comfortably at Super Rugby level and there is no reason to assume, then, that he would not do likewise in a possible new lease on life with the Kings in the northern hemisphere-centred competition.

He also has the advantage of having spent some time on the books of Montpellier in France, so is no stranger to the tactical and other needs of rugby on the slower pitches associated with rugby on the other side of the equator.

Among others in the pipeline for the Port Elizabeth side, the Kings could also benefit soon from the services of a former team-mate of Wright’s at the Sharks, seasoned tighthead prop Wiehahn Herbst, albeit that his most recent home base has been with the Bulls.

The 31-year-old (a pretty good age for a front-ranker, I always fancy) Herbst is also a streetwise figure, with several years on Ulster’s books behind him.

Whether such additions become a more pronounced “wave” remains to be seen - the Kings will have certain cash constraints of their own to consider - but they do suggest that a renewed upward trend is possible at Nelson Mandela Bay.

With a PRO14 record of one win from 21 in 2017/18, two from 21 in 2018/19 and one from 13 when the current campaign was suspended, improvement seems desperately necessary ...

*Rob Houwing is Sport24's chief writer. Follow him on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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