Port Elizabeth - The Southern Kings are eager to impress when they tackle the Sharks in front of an expected large crowd at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Saturday.
Following back-to-back wins before last weekend’s bye round, the Kings are in buoyant mood ahead of their Super Rugby derby against their coastal rivals.
The Kings ran the Sharks close in Durban earlier in the season, losing only 19-17 and are confident of pulling off an upset this weekend.
“I think everything’s gone very well this week. The team has recovered well and there has been a lot of energy in the camp and a lot of excitement during our training sessions. We have kept to our normal proceedings and have had a good week until today. We are looking forward to our captain’s run tomorrow,” coach Deon Davids said after naming his side on Thursday.
Davids maintained consistency in his side, making only one forced change to his starting XV.
Following a season-ending knee injury to loosehead prop Justin Forwood in the Kings’ most recent fixture - a 44-3 win against Melbourne Rebels a fortnight ago - Davids has brought in the experienced Schalk van der Merwe to start in the No 1 jersey for the only change to his starting XV.
On the bench, Chris Heiberg will come in to provide prop cover, while Lubabalo “Giant” Mtyanda will be in line to make his Southern Kings debut from the bench as second row cover.
A final decision on the backup hooker will be made on Friday after the captain’s run pending a fitness test for Kurt Haupt, who sustained a minor ankle injury at training on Tuesday. Should Haupt not be pass the fitness test, former SA Under-20 hooker Tango Balekile will be on standby to occupy the bench.
“Kurt twisted his ankle at training on Tuesday. We are just nursing it at the moment and we will see how it recovers between now and Friday,” Davids said.
With a massive campaign to fill the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium through the campaign #FILLOURSTADIUM which has gained great traction on social media and the general public, Davids indicated that although the team was fully behind the campaign, it was also crucial for the side to remain focused on what needs to be done on the field of play.
“I think our guys are quite focused on what we want to achieve and do - we spoke about it. There is quite some excitement in terms of getting better support and getting the fans here at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium,” Davids said.
“We are glad that we could pull off a win in our last two games. We just want to build on that feeling and energy we received from all the support. The more support we get, the more encouraging it will be for the guys to do better. We are aware of the campaign, but we are very focused on what we have to do, and we will zone in on that focus until Saturday.”
Southern Kings COO Charl Crous also gave recognition to the imminent large crowds that can be expected at the stadium on Saturday.
“The team has done very well and everybody knows the effort that they have put in with the results that we have seen. It is not just the last two victories, but the on-field performances too. This is reward for all the hard work and effort,” Crous said.
“There has been a call to action to our fans to come support this team, and we hope to convert the big flow of support on social media to actual match attendance, supporting the guys on match day. We want to thank the media for the continued support to ensure people come out in numbers to support our boys.”
Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium’s business development manager, Raaziq Poole, encouraged supporters to buy their tickets on time to avoid a rush and disappointment on match-day.
“From the Stadium’s side, we are ready to host Saturday’s events. We are fully operational and are planning for big numbers to come on Saturday,” Poole said.
“We encourage fans to come out in numbers and most importantly, to get their tickets early at any participating Ticket Pro outlets - these include Edgars Active, PostNet, Jet Mart, Engen and Caltex outlets - to avoid the rush on match-day although our ticket office will be selling tickets.”
Saturday’s clash is scheduled for 17:15.
15 Masixole Banda, 14 Wandile Mjekevu, 13 Berton Klaasen, 12 Luzuko Vulindlu, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Lionel Cronje (captain), 9 Louis Schreuder, 8 Andisa Ntsila, 7 Tyler Paul, 6 Chris Cloete, 5 Wilhelm van der Sluys, 4 Irne Herbst, 3 Ross Geldenhuys, 2 Martin Bezuidenhout, 1 Schalk van der Merwe
Substitutes: 16 Kurt Haupt/Tango Balekile, 17 Chris Heiberg 18 Dayan van der Westhuizen, 19 Lubabalo Mtyanda, 20 Stefaan Willemse, 21 Johan Steyn, 22 Nicolaas Hanekom, 23 Pieter-Steyn de Wet
15 Rhyno Smith, 14 Kobus van Wyk, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Jeremy Ward, 11 Lwazi Mvovo, 10 Patrick Lambie (captain), 9 Michael Claassens, 8 Daniel du Preez, 7 Jean-Luc du Preez, 6 Philip van der Walt, 5 Ruan Botha, 4 Etienne Oosthuizen, 3 Coenie Oosthuizen, 2 Franco Marais, 1 Tendai Mtawarira
Substitutes: 16 Chiliboy Ralepelle, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Lourens Adriaanse, 19 Stephan Lewies, 20 Tera Mtembu, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Garth April, 23 S’busiso Nkosi