Isuzu Southern Kings building for strong third year

Ella Jerman
26 June 2019

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The Isuzu Southern Kings’ second season in the Guinness PRO14 was no easier than their first, with plenty of challenges along the way but also plenty of successes.

Just like in 2017/18, the Kings finished bottom of Conference B at the end of this year’s campaign with 11 points, winning two fixtures and drawing another.

But they can console themselves with a number of promising performances as they re-build for their third year in the competition, after a summer of restructuring which is looking to offer much promise.

Key strengths

Whilst it was another year of development it wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Kings, the South African side excelling in a number of areas such as the lineout – where they had a success rate of 88.2 percent.

The Kings almost always offered attacking threat throughout the campaign, notably through winger Yaw Penxe, who dotted down eight times.

And when the South Africans’ attack was strong it was perhaps partly down to their effective offloading game, ranking fifth with 153 this season, higher than the likes of Leinster, Glasgow, Munster, Cardiff and Edinburgh.

Areas to improve

The Kings must work harder on keeping possession if they want to register further success in the Guinness PRO14 next season.

The South African outfit spent just five hours, 11 minutes and 52 seconds in possession of the ball – that’s almost fifteen minutes less than their closest competitors Toyota Cheetahs.

Meanwhile, the likes of Edinburgh, Leinster and Ulster all registered possession figures of over seven hours, proving how far the Isuzu Southern Kings have to go.

Star moment

The Kings came ever so close to beating champions Leinster in November, but ended up on the wrong side of the 38-31 scoreline in a thrilling encounter.

Their two season wins did come against two of the league’s most competitive sides however, with the Kings securing home victories against Scottish powerhouses Edinburgh Rugby and Glasgow Warriors.

The star moment just has to be the latter, with the Kings storming to a 38-28 win to end eventual Conference A winners Glasgow’s 100 percent winning run in the Guinness PRO14 in September.

To give some idea as to the magnitude of the win, Glasgow fielded 13 international players to the Kings’ one, but that didn’t stop the underdogs from storming to a 24-0 lead at half-time.

The Scottish side hit back in the second half, but just when it looked like they might salvage something from the game, Martin du Toit pounced on a bouncing ball to score his side’s fifth try and secure their first league win of the campaign.

Breakout player

JC Astle is one player who has certainly made his mark at the Kings since re-joining the club from Mont-de-Marsan last summer.

The influential lock took over the leadership reins after hooker and regular skipper Michael Willemse suffered a long-term injury in October and the 28-year-old led by example ever since, with buckets of commitment and ruthlessness in defence.

With Willemse now having left Port Elizabeth for pastures new in Edinburgh, the Kings will feel relieved they can rely on Astle to dominate proceedings.

Key man

The standout player can only be the experienced and versatile local star Masixole Banda.

The 30-year old, who joined the Port Elizabeth-based side in 2017, was their top points scorer this season with 115, making up almost a third of the total scored by the whole team.

A vital cog in the Kings works, Banda has played full-back, and fly-half whenever required, and he proved to be the most vital of points machines to lift the South African team.

Who’s in?

The Isuzu Southern Kings announced the first of their inspiring signings for next season back in April in Irish second row Jerry Sexton.

Sexton, younger brother of British and Irish Lions fly-half Johnny, agreed a three-year contract with the South African franchise, meaning we could see the siblings face each other in Conference B next season.

Demetri Catrakilis is making a return to the Kings where he will be one of the standout signings for the side ahead of the new season starting in September.

The Kings reached an agreement with English Premiership side Harlequins for the talented fly-half to return to Port Elizabeth to re-join the side he played for in 2013 on a one-year deal.

And the Kings look relentless in their pursuit to bolster their squad, with prominent Eastern Cape-born loose-forward Thembelani Bholi returning home to his former side.

The 29-year-old, who hails from Mooiplaas near East London, has signed a three-year deal which will see him return to Port Elizabeth from Super Rugby side the Bulls, where he has spent the past two years.

Who’s out?

There are some key departures to contend with, however, Willemse leaving the No.2 shirt and Deon Davids departing as head coach.

Willemse’s three-year tenure at the Southern Kings came to an end this summer, with the 26-year-old joining Scottish side Edinburgh Rugby next season.

Ntabeni Dukisa, Martin du Toit, Giant Mtyanda and Jurie van Vuuren are all making the move to Eastern Province Elephants, while loosehead prop Justin Forwood will join French side Angouleme.

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