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Rugby | Vodacom Super Rugby

Loftus ticked off another box

The desire to achieve another goal that had been set rather than the announcement of their inevitable exclusion from Vodacom Super Rugby next year was what drove the Southern Kings to their excellent win over the Vodacom Bulls at Loftus on Saturday evening.

“This match wasn’t about the announcement (on Friday) that we would not be playing Super Rugby next year but about taking the next step in our evolution as a team and add to our list of achievements.” said skipper Lionel Cronje.

“At the start of the season we wanted to win one game and then see if we could build a winning habit from there. We won in Singapore, which showed we could win overseas, then we scored a win in Australia when we beat the Waratahs in Sydney.

“After that it was about winning a game against a fellow South African team, which we did against the Sharks. We then won in Buenos Aires, and then this week set ourselves the task of winning our first away game against a South African team. By winning against the Bulls away from home we feel like we have now ticked a lot of boxes in terms of the goals we have set ourselves during the course of the season.”

Cronje kicked the last gasp penalty that gave his team a one point win at the formerly formidable home of Bulls rugby and has been an inspirational leader to the Eastern Cape side, but he will be lost to the Kings after the final game against the Cheetahs on Friday as he has signed to play in Japan. He was a victim of the uncertainty over the Kings’ status, but he has vowed to be back in Port Elizabeth now that it seems like the Kings have a future, albeit it probably in Europe.

“Unfortunately that is a decision I had to make some time ago. I have spoken to the coach and would like to come back. I would love to return to the Eastern Cape and give something back to Eastern Cape rugby,” said Cronje.

Coach Deon Davids has been in charge of what has been a remarkable success story if you consider the fact that the Kings had to build from scratch and only first came together last January, and then had to rebuild again at the start of this year after several players left the franchise. He is happy at what has been done, but admitted to a bit of frustration with several players leaving the franchise because of the uncertainty about their future, he would now have to rebuild again.

“I am sad to hear Lionel is leaving as he put up his hand as a natural choice to lead this team. He comes from the Eastern Cape and we have travelled a long road together dating back to when I was involved as a coach with the South African under-20 team. Lionel has strong qualities not just as a player but as a person with vast knowledge and personality,” said Davids.

“We can’t allow his talent to just get away. What he has managed to achieve this season is testimony of the example of a player who just needed an opportunity. There are plenty of those in this team. I just believe in putting people together in the right environment and then they will flourish.

“I have several coaches who work with me and have worked tirelessly for what we have managed to do, and we also have a very strong player-driven culture. It is a big disappointment that we won’t be playing Super Rugby next year but we were just focused on the task at hand. It has been a huge privilege to be part of Super Rugby. The players have learned a lot of lessons and the coaches have also learned a lot.”

“I am still not sure of how it is going to evolve from here. At the moment we just want to enjoy the feeling. The guys enjoy being together and there is a special bond between this group of players. It is not just about what you do on the training field, but also what you do to develop team culture and the guys wanting to be together.”

The Kings play their last Super Rugby match against the Toyota Cheetahs in Port Elizabeth on Friday night. An announcement is expected in the next few weeks on what is next for the Kings, who joined the Cheetahs in making it clear before Friday’s announcement that they were pursuing other possibilities. The likelihood is that they will join the Pro-12 in Europe from September.


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