LUKE Watson has been entrusted with the task of leading the Eastern Province Kings to Currie Cup Premier Division rugby next year.
Yesterday (July 5), the robust No 8 was named captain for the Currie Cup First Division season and will skipper the side for the first time in a friendly against the Cheetahs at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Friday night (7pm).
Watson, who has captained the Stormers and Bath previously, has replaced Mzwandile Stick, who led the side in its Vodacom Cup campaign earlier this year.
Watson returned to his roots in June when he arrived in Port Elizabeth from England, determined to make a difference for the Kings.
He now has the opportunity to do so this season as Eastern Province attempt to gain promotion to the elite section of South African rugby.
Watson said yesterday he respected the leadership skills of Stick and that they had been friends for many years.
“It is a privilege to receive the captaincy arm band from Mzwandile. We have a lot of young players with good leadership qualities who could have been named as captain, but it is not a big deal for the team to see whoever is appointed as the captain because we all want what is best for the team.”
He said he believed the players had formed a united front and were committed to establishing a winning culture.
The former Grey High pupil said the warm-up game against the Cheetahs was likely to be highly competitive.
“We can’t judge ourselves too much, but we have a monster pack team that can take them on. We are in a balanced position and are going out there to perform at our best.”
Coach Alan Solomons said Watson had been appointed captain because of his undoubted leadership skills.
“We thought it would be better for the leadership to be closer to the action and the referee on the field, and that is why he was given the armband.
“The game against the Cheetahs is a compulsory friendly and a warm-up match for the start of the Currie Cup season.”
Stick said he had come back to Port Elizabeth to play rugby and that process would continue even though he had lost the captaincy.
“Luke has good leadership experience and we want to build a strong team for this region. His appointment as the captain of the team is going to help us.”
Stick said he was not too bothered about being demoted to vice-captain because he had experienced a similar situation when he was stripped of the Springbok Sevens captain’s armband, but he had to focus on his game.
The Kings also announced that former Western Force head coach Richard Graham had been appointed as a skills development, academy and backs coach.
Graham played 26 games for the Queensland Reds and represented the Australia A team. He also captained the Australia Sevens team in the Commonwealth Games in 1998 and 2002.
Graham started working with the Kings this week.
The EP team to play the Cheetahs on Friday is:
Mzwandile Stick (vice-captain), Joe Breytenbach, Siyanda Grey, Wayne Stevens, Norman Nelson, Louis Strydom, Falie Oelschig, Jaco Engels, Hannes Franklin, Clint Newland, Jacques Potgieter, Barend Pieterse, Ross Kennedy, Devin Oosthuizen, Luke Watson (captain).
Reserves: Frank Herne, Riaan Vermeulen, Wayne van Heerden, Jacques Engelbrecht, Danie Faasen, Shane Gates, Jaco Bekker