You have to look at what our squad is going to be, going into Super Rugby
It is 'unfair' to judge the Southern Kings' prospects for Super Rugby in 2013 based on the promotion-relegation series against the Free State Cheetahs.
The Kings have come in for some harsh criticism - both from the media and fans - following the Eastern Province team's 14-53 drubbing at the hands of the Free State Cheetahs in Bloemfontein last week.
However, the Kings' Director of Rugby, Alan Solomons, feels the team that is on display in this two-match series is a far cry from the squad that will feature in Super Rugby next year.
He felt that they will be in much better shape in 2013 than they are now.
Solomons admitted that the 39-point loss last Friday is not a good reflection on the Kings - be that the EP (domestic) or the Southern (Super Rugby) variety.
However, he said people should not judge the team purely on these two matches. He is confident they will be able to make the step up to Super Rugby standards.
"Clearly a [big] step up, there is no question," Solomons told this website in an exclusive interview, when asked about the difference between First Division and Currie Cup matches.
"Premier Division is a step up from Division One, as is Super Rugby a step up from Currie Cup rugby and Test matches are a step up.
"As you go up the ladder the intensity is greater and the tempo is greater."
The Kings boss said they have a good idea of what to expect next year.
"At the beginning of the year we played the proper Super Rugby franchises," Solomons said, adding: "When we played the Stormers and the Sharks, both of them were pretty much full strength, which gave us an idea of the intensity.
"The difference was that we played them at the beginning of the season, not when we played at the end of the season when we played our 18th game in 18 weeks.
"We obviously had an attrition rate, injuries.
"At this stage [in the promotion-relegation matches] we are not a Super Rugby franchise, we don't have the depth of a Super Rugby franchise.
"However, guys like Luke [Watson], Darron Nell, Tiger [Mangweni], Schalk Ferreira - who has played Super Rugby - will have an impact.
"I thought we coped quite well with the intensity at the beginning of the season [in pre-season matches].
"I think a very tough, attritional season has taken its toll to some extend."
Solomons added that there will be more changes in the off season.
"Obviously there will be some changes to the squad composition in terms of the Super Rugby squad that will ultimately be put together," he said in reference to some of the signings already announced.
These include Western Province flyhalf Demetri Catrakilis, Free State Cheetahs centre Andries Strauss and Sharks lock Steven Sykes.
While the Kings may have acted prematurely when they unveiled Springbok hooker Bandise Maku as one of their big pre-season coups, they still have a chance of luring him back to Port Elizabeth.
Argentinean scrumhalf Nicolas Vergallo also appears to have escaped their net, as his French club is unlikely to release him, but Blues utility back Hadleigh Parkes will feature in the Kings matchday teams next year.
"One has to keep that [the addition recruits] in mind," Solomons said, adding: "We will prepare accordingly for the season.
"Clearly it [Super Rugby] is tough, because you have 16 tough games, but you do have breaks in that season.
"We have a bye early on and then of course during the inbound tours [in June] there is a break - so there are some breaks, which will facilitate matters."
He reiterated that it is not fair to judge the Kings on these promotion-relegation games in terms of what can be expected in Super Rugby next year.
"I think you have to look at what our final squad is going to be going into Super Rugby," he told this website.
"There are already new recruits that have been announced, to come into our squad for that competition.
"Secondly, we are at the back end of a very, very attritional season for us - we are going into our 19th game. We had 16 First Division games on the trot and we had a friendly against the South African students, before we started the tournament.
"Obviously the standard of [Super] Rugby is higher, but the composition of our squad will be different and we will be kicking off Super Rugby at the beginning of the year.
"Those things do make a difference.
"I don't think judgment can be passed on these two games."
Solomons admitted there is "a mountain to climb" going into their return match against the Cheetahs in PE on Friday.
"The Cheetahs got off to a flying start [in Bloemfontein last week] and we were heavily penalised at times.
"There were lots of early penalties against us at scrum time. We also weren't accurate and made mistakes for which we paid a price.
"That allowed them to jump into an early lead - they were 17-0 up after 17 minutes due to errors on our part.
"When we came back after the break and we were 14-29 down, and we were on attack, they got an intercept try and that killed the game off."
By Jan de Koning