Johannesburg - They may be headed for northern hemisphere climes next season, but the Southern Kings – officially axed from Super Rugby as of next year – proved beyond doubt that they belong at this level with a nail-biter against the Bulls on Saturday night.
Coming back from their tight victory against the Jaguares last weekend, Deon Davids’ men overcame two yellow cards to beat only their second South African team in the tournament to get to a historic six wins from their 14 games this season.
The visitors’ hero was captain Lionel Cronjé, who not only managed the game well, but also scored 21 of his side’s points via a try, two conversions, three penalties and a dropped goal.
In light of the history between the two teams, the half-time score may have surprised many, but every one of the 12 points they had were deserved. During that eventful half, which saw both sides have a try disallowed and concede a yellow card, the Kings dominated the territory and possession statistics.
The visitors looked every bit the better and smarter team, especially in possession. They were patient and unpredictable with ball in hand, knowing when to take it into contact and when to shift it away.
When they finally did score a legitimate try – through winger Makazole Mapimpi, who scored his 10th try in 14 matches in his debut Super Rugby season – it was from almost 10 phases and a build-up that included tight head prop Ross Geldenhuys throwing a pass behind his back.
Not that the Kings were all flash in open spaces – the Bulls hardly got a shoulder at will in the scrums and the visitors’ line-outs were varied – from hitting the man in the vacuum at the back of the line-out to avoiding the contest with standing or quick takes.
After impressively demolishing the Sharks away last weekend, the Bulls may have been forgiven for thinking they’d finally show their Loftus faithful who they were. But their return home was undermined by a first half in which they had no real ascendancy in any of the meaningful stats.
Their discipline was also a problem as lock Jason Jenkins’ sin-bin – which cost them 12 points – for a high hit on Kings fly half Cronjé when the Bulls had scored what should have been their first try of the match.
And when they did get their hands on the ball, their passes went astray and they coughed up the ball in contact.
The way back was plotted by the unlikely figure of lock forward RG Snyman tracking down a try line-bound Mapimpi and ankle-tapping him in what would end up with Jenkins making amends by scoring after the hooter had gone.
Once Warrick Gelant and Duncan Matthews engineered a try – which was all skilful body swerves and intelligent running – two minutes after half-time by the latter, it appeared the comeback was truly on.
But the Kings, thanks to Cronjé’s quick-thinking, kept the visitors within sight and finished the game with the last two penalties his side was awarded.