Kings must keep their eye on the ball
Kings must keep their eye on the ballSHARE
The hype surrounding the Southern Kings' debut in Super Rugby is unprecedented, but that could have an undesirable spin-off for the players.
Kings Director of Rugby Alan Solomons admitted the occasion could be distractive and result in the players losing focus, by getting caught up in the sideshows.
"Everybody knows it is a big game," Solomons told this website, when asked about a rugby match that has been in the making for almost a decade.
Going back the Kings' predecessors – the failed Southern Spears in 2005 – there has been many desperate pleas for the Eastern and Southern Cape to be given a slice of the Super Rugby pie.
Now they have and on Saturday, February 23, the Western Force will meet the Kings in the first official Super Rugby match at the nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth.
"It is massive and an historic occasion," Solomons said, adding: "From inception of Super Rugby the same South African franchises have competed [with the Cheetahs and Lions combined as the Cats for the first 10 years].
"This is the first time that a new South African franchise comes in – much like when the Western Force and Melbourne Rebels were built up from scratch."
While the players would love to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the moment, they will need to keep their eye on the ball or risk being embarrassed by the Force.
"We have to focus on the match, on our performance and what we need to do to deliver a good performance," Solomons said, when asked about the possibility that they players get so worked up they could expend their energy before kick-off.
"Everybody is aware of the fact that it is a huge, historic occasion, but we have got to focus on the performance that we have to deliver."
The Kings have not exactly set the world alight with their pre-season performances – two sloppy wins, over the Nelson Mandela Metropole University and SWD, as well as defeats to the Lions and Griquas.
However, the real test of their readiness for Super Rugby will be on Saturday.
"We took the attitude that these games were part and partial of our pre-season preparation, and here I include the two match practices and the two friendlies we played," Solomons said.
"We gave our entire wider squad an opportunity of playing.
"Now is the acid test, when we actually play [a Super Rugby match]."
The Kings started their Super Rugby pre-season in November and apart from their Christmas break, have been working at a frenetic pace to be ready for the big day.
"Given the circumstances, we've prepared as best as we can," the Kings mentor said, adding: "Within the constraints within which we had to operate, with the season starting so early, we've done the best we can."
With the exception of a few senior players, the Kings will have a full squad to select from.
"All the guys who played against Griquas will be available," Solomons said.
Veteran hooker Hannes Franklin remains a long-term injury casualty, following knee surgery.
Lock Darron Nell, who hurt his knee and then hurt his neck in the pre–season game against the Lions, is also still out.
By Jan de Koning