Having bade their time while most of the Guinness PRO14 turned their attentions to European competition, the Isuzu Southern Kings return to action this weekend against the Scarlets.
Having recorded their first victory of the 2018-19 season the last time they ran out on South African soil, the Kings roll out the red carpet for last season’s beaten Guinness PRO14 finalists.
With Scarlets head coach Wayne Pivac forced to extensively shuffle his pack, an intriguing encounter is on the cards for the first game of Round Seven.
What’s at stake?
The Kings are looking to haul themselves off the bottom of the Conference B table with a second victory of the season.
Deon Davids’ side will hope to make the most of home advantage under the Friday night lights at the Madibaz Stadium.
However, the Scarlets, who are currently six points behind leaders Leinster, are looking to close the gap on the current Conference table-toppers and continue their fine start to the 2018-19 season.
Team news (Isuzu Southern Kings): Kings head coach Davids has named an unchanged backline from the team that faced Benetton Rugby in Round Six.
Meanwhile, prop Schalk Ferreira returns to the starting XV having recovered from a fractured nose while hooker Alandre van Rooyen makes his first start of the season in the place of the injured Michael Willemse.
Stephen de Wit replaces CJ Velleman at blindside flanker while Fijian Meli Rokoua is named on the bench and could make his debut, as could Tertius Kruger.
Team news (Scarlets): Through a combination of international call-ups and injuries, the Scarlets are missing 20 first-team players.
There are 12 Scarlets on Wales duty and a further six sidelined by injury while Kieron Fonotia is suspended and Blade Thompson hasn’t travelled to South Africa following the birth of his second child.
Steff Hughes will captain Pivac’s troops while Steve Cummins and Johnny McNicholl return to the side.
Meanwhile, hooker Marc Jones and No 8 Uzair Cassiem make their first Guinness PRO14 starts in a Scarlets shirt.
Talking points: Kings chief Davids said: “I’m excited to see them. It’s time now for them to step and show that they can play at this level.
“I’m excited to see them impose themselves and showing what they can bring. The new guys have shown us some glimpses of what they can offer, so we are excited to see that in match situations.”
Scarlets head coach Pivac said: “We’re looking forward to getting out PRO14 campaign back under way.
“A victory over the Southern Kings on Friday night would ensure that we keep the pressure on the Conference leaders whilst also widening the gap on the teams chasing our tails.
“The Kings secured a bonus-point victory, and a first victory in the campaign, over Glasgow in Round Four, so we know we’ll have our work cut out for us in front of what’s expected to be a good crowd at the Madibaz Stadium.”
Key battle: John Charles-Astle v David Bulbring
The Kings will know all about the Scarlets’ David Bulbring, a Port Elizabeth-born lock who previously played for them in Super Rugby.
Strong in the tackle and also a threat going forward, can Kings captain John Charles-Astle keep a handle on him?
Key fact: The Kings have lost all three of their clashes with the Scarlets in the Guinness PRO14 so far, including a 54-14 loss in Wales in Round Five.
Did you know? The Scarlets have won four and lost just one of their clashes with South African opposition in the Guinness PRO14 to date, their sole defeat coming against the Toyota Cheetahs in December 2017.
Isuzu Southern Kings: Masixole Banda, Yaw Penxe, Harlon Klaasen, Berton Klassen, Bjorn Basson, Martin du Toit, Godlen Masimla, Schalk Ferreira, Alandre van Rooyen, Luvuyo Pupuma, Schalk Oelofse, John-Charles Astle, Stephan de Wit, Ruaan Lerm, Andisa Ntsila
Replacements: Tango Balekile, Justin Forwod, Luphumlo Mguca, Stephan Greeff, Martinus Burger, Rudi van Rooyen, Tertius Kruger, Meli Rokoua
Scarlets: Clayton Blommetjies, Johnny McNicholl, Paul Asquith, Steff Hughes, Ioan Nicholas, Dan Jones, Sam Hidalgo-Clyne, Phil Price, Marc Jones, Werner Kruger, Steve Cummins, David Bulbring, Will Boyde, Josh Macleod, Uzair Cassiem
Replacements: Dafydd Hughes, Dylan Evans, Simon Gardiner, Tom Price, Josh Helps, Kieran Hardy, Morgan Williams, Ed Kennedy
TV: At Nelson Mandela University Madibaz Stadium, Port Elizabeth, 6pm. Live on Premier Sports 2, eir Sport and SuperSport 1
Referee: John Lacey (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: Stuart Berry (SARU), Paul Mente (SARU)
TMO: Sean Veldsman (SARU)
A much-changed Scarlets side came storming back in the second half against the Isuzu Southern Kings to claim an impressive Guinness PRO14 win in Port Elizabeth.
Masixole Banda had inspired the hosts to an impressive first hour at the Madibaz Stadium but they faded late on.
And although the Scarlets were msising 20 players through injury and international call-ups they still dug deep to claim the win.
Tries from Banda, Yaw Penxe, Harlon Klaasen and Bjorn Basson had the Kings 20-10 ahead in the first half and 34-22 in the second.
But Wayne Pivac’s side produced an almighty fight back, Ioan Nicholas and Werner Kruger adding to Dafydd Hughes and Will Boyde’s first-half scores.
And in the final ten minutes youngster Kieran Hardy and Taylor Davies both went over and the comeback was complete for the Scarlets who trim the gap to Conference B leaders Leinster who play later this weekend.
1️⃣ almighty @scarlets_rugby fightback
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) October 26, 2018
The Kings have lost all three of their clashes with the Scarlets in the Guinness PRO14 so far, including a 54-14 loss in Wales in Round Five.
But the hosts hit the ground running under the Friday night lights at the Madibaz Stadium and it was Banda calling the tune from full-back.
After Sam Hidalgo-Clyne’s early clearance failed to find touch, Banda came charging in from halfway and stepped his way through a hole and under the posts for a fine solo score.
He converted for 7-0 and then added a penalty soon after and the Kings were 10-0 to the good and the Scarlets needed a response.
Dan Jones slotted a penalty to give them a foothold but back came the Kings and again Banda produced the magic, as a length of the field counter-attack culminated in Banda’s grubber being collected by Penxe to go under the posts.
The hosts were 17-3 to the good but Pivac’s side responded almost immediately as the rolling maul got to work and Dafydd Hughes dotted down.
Banda slotted another penalty to make it 20-10 with half-time approaching but the game swung either side of the break in favour of the visitors.
First Boyde burrowed over from a rolling maul and then on the resumption the back-rower combined with Hidalgo-Clyne to put Nicholas in the clear. Jones converted the second of these scores and the Scarlets were now 22-20 to the good.
Back came the Kings though, and before the 50th minute they were in front again as Harlon Klaasen forced his way over from close range after another strong Banda carry had set up the territory.
— PRO14 RUGBY (@PRO14Official) October 26, 2018
Banda converted for a 27-22 lead and a fourth try and a bonus point arrived soon after – again the Kings counter-attack doing the damage as Berton Klaasen’s kick this time found Basson to dive over and it was 34-22 to the hosts as the game entered the final quarter.
Pivac’s side – finalists last season and champions the one before – provided another response though as Kruger barged over after a steady build-up of pressure on the Kings line.
Now it was the Scarlets chasing a winning score and Jones’ touch finder putting them right on the Kings line and after going through the phases the TMO eventually awarded Hardy a score.
Jones’ conversion bisected the posts and it was 36-34 to the visitors with only five minutes left.
Then Luphumlo Mguca saw yellow for the hosts and the game was up – the Scarlets rubbing salt in the wound late on with another rolling maul try scored by Taylor Davies.
Jones missed the extras and with only a seven-point lead, the Kings sniffed a draw late on but the hosts held on for a famous win.