Patience pressure from PRO14 can't be far away

 Patience pressure from PRO14 can't be far away

 Where to with the Southern Kings after yet another hammering dished out to the Eastern Cape side in this weekend’s latest PRO14 round?

The Kings participation in in the PRO14 Championship wasn’t intended as an experiment, but the reality is that the Eastern Cape side’s inclusion has been an abject failure.

The suffered hidings of 45-0 and 68-3 in their last two outings against fellow-South African franchise Cheetahs and Munster respectively. But more than that is the fact that they have won only four and drawn one of their 53 matches in the competition to date. Therefore: 48 losses from 53!

They are obviously not provindibg meanigful competition, rather a mere opportunity for their opponents to rest key players.

There must be serious concerns from PRO14’s side and SA Rugby, too, cannot be too happy about the situation. It is after all an indictment of the country’s rugby strength and efficiency. And what’s more, there is no improvement after after 2½ seasons. On the contrary …

A look below at the Kings performances and figures over the2½ seasonss since they joined the PRO14 underlines the chaotic circumstances under which coaches Deon Davids and now Robbi Kempson had to try and salvage something with a group of players, unwanted by the other franchises, that have been thrown together.  
                                              ALL 2½ SEASONS           THIS SEASON                     

Points for:                           931 (ave 17,56 per match)                     168 (ave 15,27)
Points against:                1997 (ave 37,67)                                        433 (ave 39,36)    
Tries scored:                      120 (ave 2,26)                                             18 (ave 1,63) 
Tries conceded:                291 (4,49 per match)                                65 (ave 5,91) 
Try bonus points:                9                                                                  0                                     
Losing bonus points:        13                                                                  3                               
Log points:                          40                                                                  7   

It would be interesting to see to see how many players the two coaches had used in the 2½ seasons. One can only imagine with what dread they pitch up for their training sessions and matches. To the players, most likely, rugby is no longer a game of fun and enjoyment, but rather a chore of taking one defeat after the other.

True, there have been many moments of promise and hope for the 2½ seasons of PRO14 rugby, but the end results make for poor reading.

One must, however, concede that they were hampered by challenges none of their European competitors had to face: continual budget constraints to recruit quality players, or even appoint a meaningful coaching staff; and they do not have a unifying home base such as their counterparts in Europe or the Super Rugby franchises in South Africa.

What the solution is, isn’t clear. What is important, though, is that the franchise, now under new management, must get their house in order so that caretaker coach Robbi Kempson, director of rugby at the franchise, can proceed with his task of what he has been appointed for, namely to again make the Eastern Cape a rugby stronghold.

He has plenty to do and a very low base to work from, but it is important for the sake of rugby in South Africa and in the Eastern Cape.

The Kings 2½ PRO14 seasons summed up

In that first (2017/18) season Deon Davids, an excellent coach, had to compete in one of the rugby world’s strongest competitions with a small squad to go with the relative paucity of top-class talent and very little team and franchise management support.

The Kings finished last in Conference B with a solitary win from 21 outings and 11 points on the log, 11 behind the Dragons (20 points) who had registered only two wins. The last-placed team in Conference A, Zebre, had won seven of their matches and drawn two. They had accumulated 36 log points and thee Kings were the undoubted bottom team in the league.

Still with the same constraints, although they were decidedly less challenging in extent, Davids’ team doubled their wins in 2018/19 to two but again finished last in Conference B with 22 log points, the latter statistic a seemingly notable improvement. On an accumulated table of the two conferences’ standings, this would have put the Kings in 13th place out of the 14 sides and included two wins and one draw.

The Dragons were again second last in their Conference A on 26 points with five win and a draw but less bonus points than the Kings. At least the Port Elizabeth side showed some growth, losing seven of their matches by seven points or lesc compared to the previous season’s two close losses.

But continued improvement was not to be. In the present season (2019/20) after 11 matches of their 21 fixtures, the Kings have won only once.

There isn’t a positive entry in the column for try bonus points, and only three for matches lost by seven points or less – including the heart-wrenching one-point loss to the Cheetahs in Port Elizabeth before going down 0-45 to the Free State team a week later!

One cannot blame the players, coached by Kempson who was thrust into the position following the shambles of appointing a coach to success Davids who had parted ways with the Kings and is now a Springbok assistant coach.

Nor can Kempson be taken to task, with injuries, a lowly budget, a playing staff squad of players who couldn’t make it into the Super Rugby franchises, adding to his challenges.

But a solution must be found.