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Kings' feet firmly planted

Fri, 01 Mar 2013 06:33
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They showed they can step up
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The Kings have used their bye week to allow the euphoria of their debut win to fade away and create room for reality to set in.

After their 22-10 win over the Western Force the Super Rugby rookies, the Kings, are unexpectedly sitting pretty at the top of the South African Conference standings.

But they have their feet firmly planted on the ground, knowing that a much bigger hurdle awaits them in the Sharks - whom they will face in Port Elizabeth on March 9.

This week's bye also allows some sore bodies to recover.

The Kings' New Zealand coach, Matt Sexton, said the early break - a result of the 15-team competition which means every week at least one team has a bye - has both advantages and disadvantages.

"The boys took a few knocks with that performance [against the Force] at the weekend, so it gives us a bit of time to get rid of those," Sexton told this website in an exclusive interview.

"It is what it is and we look at it as the 'glass half full' scenario," he said of their bye.

"At least we can sort out the knocks and bumps."

While his team produced an enormous defensive effort, he said the most pleasing aspect of their debut was that it exposed a host of new players to the competition.

"We only had four players on the pitch that had played a significant amount of Super Rugby," the Kings' Kiwi mentor said, adding: "There were 18 guys out there playing Super Rugby for the first time and stepped up to the challenge and played like seasoned campaigners.

"The fact that the guys now have experience of what it takes and showed they can step up is really good."

From a technical aspect, he said he was pleased with the improvements his side made around the set pieces.

"We know we have a massive challenge coming up against the Sharks [next Saturday, March 9] and other sides [thereafter]," Sexton told this website.

"We showed we have pretty good set pieces also. We must step up again in that area, but we have made some good improvements in that aspect."

Asked if the victory will be a significant boost to the belief factor in the team, Sexton said they are in touch with reality.

"There were a lot of nervous guys out there, not knowing what to expect.

"Now that they got through that period, through the game and have the knowledge that they can compete at that level it is fantastic for them.

"We certainly have our feet firmly on the ground.

"We know we are going to be up against some pretty well honed teams.

"Again, we need to continue building on what we have done in that performance."

The former Junior All Black, Sexton, felt the most important aspect of their game going forward will be to have a "fit and healthy" squad.

"Recovery is a key protocol for us, nutrition, all those little off-field things that keep us healthy and keep guys vying for positions," the Kings mentor said.

"Competition for positions always brings the best out of people.

"Obviously we will be working hard on all the areas, but long-term it is just for us to keep fit and healthy."

Asked if he felt the Kings have the depth to cope with the demands of a four-month, 16-match competition, Sexton again took the 'glass half full' approach.

"There will be some guys who will step up and get opportunities, who haven't played yet.

"We hope they do the same as the 22 who got the opportunity at the weekend. We do have players that are untested, they will show us what they can do when they get the opportunity."

Sexton, who made 128 appearances for Canterbury and 30-odd for the Crusaders, was lured to Port Elizabeth by his former coach at Irish province Ulster, Alan Solomons - the latter the Director of Rugby at the Southern Kings.

By Jan de Koning

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