Kings aim to score on the pitch
Kings aim to score on the pitchSHARE
The boardroom dramas may have been a big distraction, but Southern Kings coach Matt Sexton is confident his charges will remain focussed on the job at hand.
Just days after their arrival in New Zealand the Port Elizabeth-based franchise was forced to send two players home – as the long-running boardroom battle between the Kings management and the South African Rugby Union came to a head.
The end result was that Argentinean loose forward Tomas Leonardi and French hooker Virgile Lacombe returned to PE, while hooker Edgar Marutlulle and loose forward Devin Oosthuizen replaced them in New Zealand – as the Kings' executive opted to back down on the face of threats of expulsion issued by SARU.
Add to that an ever-growing list of injuries – with Schalk Ferreira set to become the fourth captain in four matches when he leads the team against the Crusaders in Christchurch on Saturday – and it is easy to see how players could loose focus.
However, Sexton – a native of Christchurch – is adamant that the Kings should be able to focus on performing on the playing field.
"We are reasonably disappointed for the two guys that had to be sent home," Sexton told this website in an interview from the team's base in New Zealand – ahead of Saturday's encounter with the seven-time champion Crusaders.
"However, that [the boardroom drama] is not in our control and we just have to get on with it.
"There is no excuses," the Kiwi coach said, adding: "We need to refocus and make sure we put in a good performance on Saturday.
"We will need to be on top of our game.
"They [the Crusaders] have a slightly different side to what they fielded against the Bulls and we have a massive challenge in front of us and focussing on other things [boardroom sagas] is certainly not going to help us."
Injuries have also robbed the Kings of a host of their most experienced players.
It started when captain Luke Watson took a blow to the throat in the opening match, ruling him out of their next few matches and the tour. Then stand-in Darron Nell (who strained a calf muscle in the warm-up before the encounter with the Chiefs), Steven Sykes (who took over the captaincy fro Nell was injured during the game against the Chiefs), Andries Strauss (also injured against the Chiefs) and fullback SP Marais (also took a blow against the Chiefs).
"It is not ideal, but that is the nature of this competition," was Sexton's somewhat philosophical take on the injury curse.
"[It means] guys from the squad who haven't played before get opportunities – Daniel Adongo comes in at lock, George Whitehead starts at fullback. We've got some able replacements there," he told this website.
Losing four captains in as many weeks is obviously also not ideal.
"Leadership is pretty important, especially if you are in foreign land," the Kings' Kiwi mentor said.
"They have a great deal to contribute on-and-off the track."
While Schalk Ferreira has been handed the onfield captaincy, Sexton pointed out that seasoned Super Rugby players like Steven Sykes and Andries Strauss are continuing to contribute off the field.
"It is a great opportunity for Schalk Ferreira, who has been an absolute talisman of our pack and gets to captain the side against the Crusaders. He has all the attributes to be a fantastic leader and certainly showing, through his actions on the paddock, that he can do it.
"He now just has a C [for captain] behind his name."
However, having guys like Sykes and Strauss around in the build-up is a huge fillip for the team.
"Steven [Sykes] has been around the block," Sexton told this website, adding: "He is pretty streetwise and he gives good advice to the younger guys.
"We have quite a few guys who haven't been out of South Africa before and just helping out with the touring thin, it is nice having a guy like that – one of their peers that is offering advice.
"He has been fantastic, as has been Andries. It is really important to have them around the team as much as we can, even though they are not going to take to the field on Saturday."
Sexton feels that having the tour so early in the season, especially an new team like the Kings, has its advantages.
"What is good is that we've been able to spend good quality time with guys – from a team bonding experience it is great, because we will have the odd team activity outside the rugby field, which is nice.
"We do have a young and inexperienced team and it is an opportunity to have the odd chat and informal chats which you might not have when you are at home is fantastic."
Facing Sexton's former team, the Crusaders, is a is a tall order – especially after the form they showed in demolishing the Bulls last week.
But Sexton said it is important they focus on their own game, rather than get sidetracked by the opposition.
"Our team needs to be performance focussed," the Kings' mentor said, adding: "The win-loss record is obviously important, but for a side like ours – which is not exactly star-studded – we need to look at it from a different perspective.
"We need to break the performance into small parts and we measure those parts. Often when you do that, it highlights some good things you're done in the game and some bad things.
"The important thing is that we reinforce the things we are doing well and spend time wisely in the things we don't do so well. That is pretty critical for us that when you don't have a good performance you still take some positives out of it.
"That is what we have been doing week-to-week and we have seen improvements in our play. We have been quite targeted in our training to things that will help us get better."
By Jan de Koning