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Kings on the international stage

Fri, 18 Feb 2011 00:00

The Southern Kings received a significant boost with confirmation that they will participate in the 2011 IRB Nations Cup tournament.

The Kings will be joined by the IRB Nations Cup 2010 champions Namibia, hosts Romania and Georgia, Americas Championship holders the Argentina Jaguars and Portugal.

Namibia, Romania and Georgia will all be competing at the World Cup in New Zealand later this year and will use the tournament as preparation for the global showcase event.

The South African Kings join the Nations Cup for the first time, following a two-year absence for South Africa teams - who have not participated since the Emerging Boks won back-to-back tournament titles in 2007 and 2008.

Having provided the setting for four immensely successful Nations Cups, the National Arcul de Triumf Stadium in Bucharest will again host the tournament, designed to provide extended international competition, played over three triple-header match days on June 10, 15 and 19.

"This year's IRB Nations Cup is a critical stage in the World Cup preparation programmes for Romania, Namibia, Georgia and Argentina," said IRB Chairman Bernard Lapasset, in Cape Town for the announcement.

"In deciding on the line-up we have tried to find a balance between ensuring that there are IRB ranking test matches between the Tier Two Unions and that the level of competitiveness of the participating teams provides an appropriate benchmarking opportunity that the World Cup-bound Unions require to test their systems and team management structures.

"The inclusion of the South African Kings is welcome in that the team will be comprised of professional players from the Southern Kings franchise, thereby providing a higher quality of opposition for the Tier Two unions than they would otherwise encounter in their normal regional competition environment," added Lapasset.

SARU President Regan Hoskins also welcomed the presence of a South African team in the IRB Nations Cup after a two-year absence from the competition.

"The inclusion of a Kings selection is another important step in our effort to create quality playing time for the Kings in view of their future participation in Super Rugby.

"The tournament will assist SARU to give much-needed international exposure to players and coaching staff in a region that is of huge strategic importance to us," said Hoskins.

"The inclusion of a Kings selection is another important step in our effort to create quality playing time for the Kings in view of their future participation in Super Rugby.

"The tournament will assist SARU to give much-needed international exposure to players and coaching staff in a region that is of huge strategic importance to South African rugby.

"We are grateful to the IRB for giving the Kings the opportunity to play in this very competitive tournament. SARU is fully committed to the Eastern Cape rugby cause and has shown its commitment through tangible investments and capacity building on all levels."

Border, Eastern Province and South Western Districts form the Southern Kings with Port Elizabeth as its base.

The Kings' participation in the tournament is part of SARU's strategy to prepare the Eastern Cape-based franchise for participation in Super Rugby.

As part of this initiative, the Kings have already played friendly matches against the Bulls (January 29), Cheetahs (February 5) and the Lions (February 11).

Matches against the Sharks and Stormers are being lined up for later in the year.

In addition, a match against English club Saracens is also planned for later in the season.

Port Elizabeth will also host the much-anticipated Tri-Nations match between the Springboks and All Blacks on 20 August in the new Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

The 2011 IRB Nations Cup kicks-off on June 10 with World Cup Pool B teams Georgia and Romania coming face-to-face with African opposition in South African Kings and Namibia, and Argentina Jaguars face Portugal.

With the Romanian Rugby community still on a high after the national team's World Cup qualification last November in the final play-off match against Uruguay, interest in this year's tournament is expected to be unprecedented.

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