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Lionel Cronje © Gallo Images

Wara day for the Kings!

The Southern Kings showed their tenacity and passion and underlined their massive improvement as a team by scoring a 26-24 win over the Waratahs in Sydney on Friday that will have many feeling saddened that they will probably not be part of Vodacom Super Rugby again in 2018.

There were many reasons why the Kings win should be considered epic, not the least of them that they had to come back from a big deficit on a foreign field that hasn’t always been kind to foreign teams. The Waratahs were leading 17-0 just before halftime, which means that the Kings effectively went through a 40-minute period where they scored 26 unanswered points against a franchise that were Super Rugby champions just a few seasons ago.

What makes the achievement even more noteworthy is that if the Kings had won by 15 points the Waratahs would not have been able to complain that it wasn’t a fair reflection. The Kings were that much better than them, particularly during a second half that they dominated off the base of a strong scrumming platform.

Indeed, don’t be fooled by the two-point winning margin into thinking that it was nail-biting for the Kings in the last minutes. The second Taqele Naiyarovoro try was scored after the hooter and all it did was earn the Waratahs a bonus point they perhaps didn’t deserve. With a nine-point advantage, the Kings had it won before then, with the point when they were sure of the result coming when referee Rohan Hoffman rightly awarded them a penalty try with four minutes to go.

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The Kings had missed a penalty when their otherwise outstanding captain Lionel Cronje hit the posts with an attempt eight minutes from time, but there was excellent chasing that enabled the Kings to profit as the ball bounced back into play and the Waratahs were forced to carry the ball back over the line.

That started a period of a few minutes where the Kings were camped on the Waratahs line and they kept on winning penalties until eventually, as they were driving over to the right of the posts, home captain Michael Hooper jumped into the Kings scrum and was rightly penalised, with Hoffman marching under the posts to signal the automatic seven-pointer.

The Kings had been 19-17 ahead and at 26-17, particularly as they were so dominant by then, there was going to be no catching them. The last consolation score – it would have been no more than consolation in the Kings eyes anyway – didn’t matter. The Kings had pulled off a famous win.

They had been competitive in their two previous games in Australia and were perhaps unlucky to lose the opening match against the Western Force in Perth. In that game they made mistakes that let them down and it has to be said that the errors made it harder for them in Sydney than it might have been, particularly in the first half.

For instance Chris Cloete, although he spent 10 minutes in the second half in the sinbin, played another blinder, and the Waratahs were repeatedly turned over at the breakdown in the first 40 minutes. That was quite an achievement on the Kings’ part considering the presence of Wallaby Hooper in the Waratahs back-row, but the Kings did make it hard for themselves by knocking on when they had turned over the Waratahs near their own line early in the game.

That led to the Waratahs’ field position that eventually saw them send wing Naiyarovoro in for his first try to give his team a 5-0 lead that became 12-0 when Israel Folau effected an excellent break-out from his own half, linked with flyhalf Foley and centre Rob Horne, and was set free down the left. Kings wing Wandile Mjekevu actually did a great job of hauling Horne in but then fell off the tackle.

The Waratahs had the territorial advantage up to that point but it was the Kings who were winning most of the possession. They looked to be building up for a try from that possession advantage when they were camped in the Waratahs half on the 30 minute mark, and a try looked likely as they built up to the right just metres out from the line off a loose scrum that was formed after Cloete had gone over the line but was just unable to dot down.

Unfortunately for the Kings, however, a pass was intercepted and the ball was transferred to pacy Australian Sevens star Cameron Clark, who scored at the other end of the field. It was a 12-point swing, and the Kings would not have been blamed had they lost heart when looking at a scoreboard that reflected a 17-point deficit when they should have been just five behind.

But the Kings have shown great fighting spirit on their tour and they duly fought back, with prop Justin Forwood going over for a try that cut the deficit to 10 points with the conversion. It could so easily have been cut further before halftime as Wandile Mjekevu went over for a try that looked good to the naked eye but was overruled by the TMO on the basis of accidental offside, a decision the Kings, and Cronje in particular, were not happy about.

So the teams went to the break with the Waratahs 17-7 ahead, but from the outset of the second half it was clear that the Kings had found their confidence and their momentum. It resulted in a try in the left corner in the sixth minute after the restart to fullback Maxisole Banda.

There might have been worried frowns when Cloete was binned not long after that – the Waratahs did have a player binned in the last part of the first half for kicking the ball through a ruck – but that was the turn of the Kings’ defensive system to stand tall. They never gave an inch when Cloete was off and then regained their momentum when he returned.

It was from an attacking lineout that the driving maul was set up that created the space for hooker Michael Willemse to barrel over for the try that enabled Cronje, who produced another commanding and authoritative performance at flyhalf, to take the lead for his team for the first time with the conversion. After that it really was all the Kings, and it was a deserved victory.

All the men that the Kings deployed on the day deserve immense credit, but aside from Cronje and a magnificent forward pack, and Cloete and the front-row players in particular, there was a stellar showing from scrumhalf Louis Schreuder, who always seemed to make the right calls and the right decisions.


Southern Kings 26 – Tries: Justin Forwood, Masxisole Banda and Michael Willemse; Penalty try: Conversions: Lionel Cronje 2. Waratahs 24 – Tries: Taqele Naiyaravvoro 2, Cameron Clarke and Rob Horne; Conversions: Bernard Foley 2


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