Picture: THINKSTOCK
Picture: THINKSTOCK

A year ago, the Southern Kings were still trying to find enough players to make up a team with less than a month to the start of Super Rugby.

Twelve months on‚ they are in much better shape. But they are still way behind the progress of other Super Rugby franchises after a year of turmoil that saw the EP Rugby Union placed into liquidation in 2016.

SA Rugby is still paying the wages of the Super Rugby squad and long-term planning is almost impossible‚ given that most of the squad have no contracts beyond this campaign.

But coach Deon Davids does not concern himself with what-ifs and has rolled up his sleeves and got on with it.

Before the end-of-year break, his team had put in eight weeks of hard work. That gives them a huge advantage compared to last January.

The Port Elizabeth-based side returned to training this week following a two-and-a-half week festive season break and they are eager to complete their last leg of preseason preparations. They meet the Jaguares at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on February 25 in their season opener.

"We were fortunate this time that we were able to start a bit earlier‚" said Davids.

"Unfortunately‚ we did start a bit late with some of the contracting because of certain circumstances‚ but we are way ahead in comparison with where we were last year. We have had two wonderful months of preseason."

He is also pleased with the manner in which the players in the squad have responded. "It has been quite interesting and challenging. Some of the guys have not really been used to the workload‚ some responded well. Overall‚ each individual progressed and got better as we went through the preseason‚" Davids said.

"Under the circumstances‚ in a short time‚ we were lucky to be able to put together a reasonable squad of talented players.

"There are a lot of exciting youngsters coming through. We have a good balance‚ although there will always be one or two positions, where you could think that we could still try and test things," he said.

"But overall‚ I’m quite happy with where we are. Again‚ this time last year [2016], we did not have a squad and now we are in a fortunate position.

"In the best circumstances, we would have liked to have had some continuity — building from the Currie Cup into Super Rugby‚ but unfortunately we work under different circumstances. However‚ I do think we can look forward to seeing the squad playing."

The Kings will play two warm-up matches in the build-up to the start of the Vodacom Super Rugby campaign. They take on Border Bulldogs in East London on February 4 and then face the SWD Eagles at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on February 11.

"The game is played at a very high intensity — the demands physically and from a running perspective are very high‚" Davids said.

"We all know that last year we struggled a bit in the last 20 to 30 minutes because we did not have a preseason.

"This year, we have laid the foundation. If we continue to build on this‚ then we will be able to do better‚ conditioning-wise this year.

"The two friendlies will be all about ourselves."

TMG Digital

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