Willemse to lead Kings on first Pro14 tour
SQUAD ANNOUNCEMENT: Southern Kings hooker Michael Willemse has been named captain of the Port Elizabeth side for their maiden Pro14 tour.
Head coach Deon Davids announced his 27-man touring squad on Monday that will open their Pro14 season with an encounter against defending champions, the Scarlets, in Wales before travelling to Ireland to take on Connacht and confirmed the hard-working Willemse as captain for the tour.
In confirming the 24-year-old Willemse as the first Southern Kings captain in the Pro14 Championship, Davids described the decision to select the hooker as the team leader as a "natural" one.
Willemse, who was part of the Southern Kings' Super Rugby side earlier in the year, re-joined the Eastern Cape side after having moved to the Golden Lions in July.
"I have decided that Michael Willemse will lead this group on this tour," Davids said on Monday.
"He re-joined us and has been with us for about a week. Mike is quite familiar with our team culture and the way we play.
"I think he was one of the standout performers for us last season in the Super Rugby competition. He is one of our core group of players that are still part of our setup. He has been a natural choice for me to take up that role as captain."
Willemse joined the Southern Kings for the 2017 Super Rugby season after having represented the Stormers from 2014 to 2016.
The Cape Town-born hooker has previously represented South Africa at Under-20 level at the World Rugby Under-20 Champs in 2013 where he made five appearances.
The 1.85-metre, 104kg front-rower attended Grey High School in Port Elizabeth before furthering his rugby at the University of Cape Town prior to joining Western Province.
Davids' 27-member squad for the tour consists of 15 forwards and 12 backs – including 10 players who were part of the Southern Kings' Super Rugby campaign.
The squad is also not lacking in players with experience in playing in the Pro14 competition.
Loose forward Dries van Schalkwyk, formerly with Zebre, and Rossouw de Klerk, formerly with Glasgow Warriors, are part of the Southern Kings' touring squad.
Davids is looking forward to seeing his squad gel and grow together from their first tour of the Pro14.
"There are always positives when you go on tour so early – you get to spend some time with the players individually, and the players also get to know each other better. So, there will be a lot of benefits from this tour," the head coach said.
"When we come back we will have 27 players who will have a good understanding of where we are and where we need to go. Players that are staying behind will have time to work on aspects of their game – whether it is conditioning or skills. When we get back we will suddenly have a larger pool of players we can work with."
The touring squad will leave South Africa on Tuesday for Wales, where they will face the Scarlets on Saturday, September 2, at Parc y Scarlets.
Davids will name the Southern Kings matchday squad for the opening match on Thursday.
Southern Kings tour squad:
Forwards: Tango Balekile, Stephan Coetzee, Rossouw de Klerk, Bobby de Wee, Martin Dreyer, Schalk Ferreira, Khaya Majola, Siyabulela Mdaka, Andisa Ntsila, Luvuyo Pupuma, Victor Sekekete, Entienne Swanepoel, Dries van Schalkwyk, Jurie van Vuuren, Michael Willemse (captain).
Backs: Masixole Banda, Kurt Coleman, Ntabeni Dukisa, Rowan Gouws, Berton Klaasen, Godlen Masimla, Jacques Nel, Yaw Penxe, Sibusiso Sithole, Rudi van Rooyen, Luzuko Vulindlu, Oliver Zono.