Cape Town - Southern Kings assistant coach Braam van Straaten has only been with the squad for five months but he has seen enough growth in the individuals in the group in that time to be convinced they are on the cusp of becoming a force to be reckoned with in PRO14 Rugby.
The frustrating last gasp 31-30 loss to the Free State Cheetahs in the first of a series of derby matches a few days ago has left the Kings with just one win as they near the halfway mark of the competition with a return clash with their fellow South African team in Bloemfontein on Saturday.
However, while Van Straaten, a former Springbok flyhalf was disappointed with the result, he saw enough in the performance of the Eastern Cape team to feel that they are now confirming their growth and improvement.
“The team is definitely growing, if we had played the Cheetahs a few months ago they would have given us a proper hiding but now the boat is turning and starting to point in the right direction,” said Van Straaten.
“We are not firing on all cylinders and we have some way to go still, but I think everyone can see that we are heading in the right direction now. We have things to work on, such as the slow ball that hampered our attack against the Cheetahs last weekend, but on a week by week basis we are working on those things and getting them right.
“Maybe people from outside don’t see it because they don’t see the players every day but from inside we can see the change in the way the players take information on and learn, the way they go about about things on the field in comparison to how they did before and in how they go about preparing themselves both physically and mentally,” he added.
For Van Straaten, any attempt to compare the current Kings team and players with where they were when he first joined the franchise from the Sharks would be like comparing chalk and cheese.
“There has been a massive shift in these boys, all we now need is some luck and rub of the green. The Cheetahs have been playing for a long time, they know how to slow the ball down, they have very good linespeed on defence. We didn’t do as well as we could have last Saturday, but we have a few things up our sleeve for the return match this coming week.”
As a former kicker at international level, Van Straaten knows a thing or two about the discipline, and he believes that there were soft moments last week in that department that contributed to the Kings’ inability to hold onto the substantial lead they had built heading into the last minutes.
“We had some soft moments with our kicking game, such as not kicking out from a penalty. Small things like that can cost you and they did. The plan was right but the execution was lacking,” said the defence coach.
“The good news is that we have some experienced players coming back into the system that could help us when it comes to keeping composure in the tense moments, something we didn’t do well last Saturday. Howard Mnisi will be back soon, and Demetri Catrakilis (first choice flyhalf at the start of the season before being injured), will be back in the mix again soon too.”
Van Straaten is backing the Kings to deliver better results in the second half of the season.
“From here on we will definitely see a Kings team that will be able to test the best. In five months I have seen incredible growth in all the individuals and we will reap the rewards for backing the cattle that we have. We just have to learn to close out games, our game drivers need to learn to finish a game, ensure that we play it at our pace. That will come. We just have to have calm heads in addition to the necessary fire in the belly.”
- PRO14 Media