The Southern Kings return to Guinness PRO14 action following their Christmas break with a tough assignment away to Edinburgh at Myreside.
The Kings’ last game was against Friday’s opponents as they went down 48-21 at Nelson Mandela Bay with the Scottish side playing Glasgow Warriors back-to-back in the meantime.
What’s at stake? The Kings are yet to record a win in the Guinness PRO14 but there is no better time than a New Year for a change in fortunes.
A victory would help the Kings close the ten-point gap to the Dragons.
Edinburgh meanwhile are eight points behind third-placed Ulster and need success to reduce that deficit as well as move them further clear of Benetton in Conference B.
Team news (Southern Kings): Schalk Ferreira will lead the Kings in Scotland with Yaw Penxe, Kurt Coleman, Berton Klaasen and Dries van Schalkwyk all included.
Adisa Ntsila, who has made 132 tackles this season, hasn’t made the trip but is expected to return for the Kings’ back-to-back derbies with the Toyota Cheetahs.
A late decision will be made as to whether Gouws Rowan or Godlen Masimla is included amongst the replacements for the South Africans.
Team news (Edinburgh): Scotland international Mark Bennett is set to make his long-awaited debut in an Edinburgh shirt as one of five changes made by Richard Cockerill.
The centre, who joined from Glasgow Warriors in the summer, has recovered from a long-term knee injury with Dougie Fife, a try-scorer against the Kings in December, named on the wing.
Jordan Lay is selected at loosehead prop with Murray McCallum at tighthead while Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson and Cornell du Preez make up the back row.
Richard Cockerill said: “Mark has worked incredibly hard to return from injury, so we’re delighted that he’s able to make his first start for the club in front of our supporters at Myreside.
“Southern Kings are a dangerous side in attack, and they will be well-rested having had a few weeks’ break over the festive period.
“It’ll be a tough game, but we’re looking forward to getting back to Myreside and putting in a good performance, and one that keeps us looking up the table.”
Head coach Deon Davids said: “Overall this has been a difficult touring squad to put together and I’ve had much to consider.
“Firstly, we’ve had to take into account the players’ workload prior to this break and consider the impact that the tough travelling schedule we have coming up could have on their recovery.
“We have also been hit by some unforeseen injuries. In light of the said, we decided it would be a good opportunity to assess the depth and talent within the squad.”
Key battle: Cornell du Preez v Ruann Lerm
Cornell du Preez is fast approaching 100 appearances for Edinburgh and will need all that experience when he takes on Ruann Lerm.
The Scotland international was born in South African and will be keen to demonstrate his abilities ahead of the Six Nations selection.
Key stat: Edinburgh Rugby’s four-game winning run in all competitions ended with their 17-0 defeat to Glasgow Warriors at Scotstoun on 30 December.
Did you know? The Scots’ only defeat at home this season was when Benetton were the visitors in Round 3 of the Guinness PRO14.
Edinburgh: Blair Kinghorn, Dougie Fife, Mark Bennett, Phil Burleigh, Duhan van der Merwe, Jaco van der Walt, Nathan Fowles, Jordan Lay, Stuart McInally, Murray McCallum, Ben Toolis, Grant Gilchrist, Magnus Bradbury, Hamish Watson, Cornell du Preez
Replacements: Cameron Fenton, Elliot Millar-Mills, Matt Shields, Fraser McKenzie, Viliame Mata, Sean Kennedy, Chris Dean, Damien Hoyland
Southern Kings: Ntabeni Dukisa, Yaw Penxe, Berton Klaasen, Martin du Toit, Alshaun Bock, Kurt Coleman, Rudi van Rooyen, Schalk Ferreira (capt), Stephan Coetzee, Rossouw de Klerk, Jurie van Vuuren, Dries van Schalkwyk, Bredenkamp Eitel, Martinus Burger, Ruaan Lerm.
Replacements: Tango Balekile, Njabulo Gumede, Pieter Scholtz, Lindokuhle Welemu, Freddy Ngoza, Gouws Rowan/Godlen Masimla, Harlon Klaasen, Masixole Banda.
Match officials – Referee: Lloyd Linton (SRU), AR1: Mike Adamson (SRU), AR2: Sam Grove-White (SRU), TMO: Neil Paterson (SRU)
TV: BBC ALBA: 19:25, SuperSport 1: 21:30 (SA)
Guinness PRO14 Final 2018 Ticket Information: Fans can save up to 20% on selected tickets, and prices start at just €30 for adults and €5 for children, and can be booked via www.ticketmaster.ie
Mark Bennett produced a man-of-the-match display on his Edinburgh debut, and return from a lengthy injury lay-off, to help his new club to a convincing Guinness PRO14 victory over the Southern Kings.
In a hailstorm at Myreside, centre Bennett looked accomplished in his first competitive action for ten months as he completed his comeback from a cruciate ligament injury – running hard with ball in hand and looking solid defensively in the 37-7 win.
Bennett’s injury woes meant this was the first time he had pulled on an Edinburgh jersey since his summer move from Glasgow Warriors and although he didn’t cross the whitewash, tries from Grant Gilchrist, Blair Kinghorn, Duhan van der Merwe, Cameron Fenton and Dougie Fife wrapped up a bonus-point triumph.
Ntabeni Dukisa got the Southern Kings on the board with a late consolation try but Edinburgh’s impressive home record was never really threatened – their only defeat as hosts this season remains when Benetton Rugby were the visitors in round three.
Despite not having played a Guinness PRO14 game in more than a month, the Kings showed no signs of ring rust as they started the stronger at Myreside, setting up camp in the home 22.
However, they failed to turn territory into points as the Edinburgh defence held firm on their own line and fly-half Kurt Coleman pulled a relatively straightforward tenth-minute penalty wide of the left upright.
As Edinburgh finally gained a foothold in the game, Jaco van der Walt slotted a three-pointer midway through the first half and that seemed to galvanise the hosts as they ran in two tries shortly after.
The first was slightly fortuitous as towering lock Gilchrist charged down a box kick from Rudi van Rooyen in his own 22, hinted at a previous life as a handy footballer by delicately tapping the ball round the covering Coleman and fell on it over the line in the right corner.
Van der Walt missed the tricky conversion but made no such mistake two minutes later following a try started and finished by Kinghorn.
The talented full-back making the initial electrifying break before Chris Dean kicked through the onrushing Kings defence, allowing Kinghorn to race away and drop on the ball in the in-goal area.
The 15-0 half-time advantage became 18-0 early in the second period as van der Walt added another penalty before the Kings were ironically undone by a South African connection on 58 minutes.
Van der Walt lobbed a pass wide to his compatriot van der Merwe who touched down in the corner to put the result beyond any doubt at 25-0.
It took 71 minutes for Edinburgh to secure the four-try bonus point and it came from an inexorable driving maul right up the middle of the field, which Fenton guided over the line for the score.
Shortly after, a dinked kick into the corner was not handled by Edinburgh defence and Dukisa opportunistically dotted down for a Kings consolation but the Scots would have the last laugh in similar circumstances right on full-time.
Van der Walt grubber kicked through and although Masixole Banda looked perfectly placed to deal with the danger, he missed the ball when trying to dive on it allowing Fife to gleefully touch down for Edinburgh’s fifth and final try.