IT is vital the EP Kings hit the ground running against arch-rivals the Pumas in an Absa Currie Cup First Division match at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium tonight (kick-off 7.10pm).
Last year the Kings managed to secure a crack at Premier Division status when they won the First Division despite a strong challenge from the Pumas.
The Kings lost that two-leg promotion match against the Cheetahs and are determined to succeed in their bid for top-flight status this season.
The Nelspruit-based side have given an early indication that they will be the team to beat in the First Division this season when they reached the Vodacom Cup final last month.
On their way to the final, the Pumas beat the Kings 39-13 in their semifinal before they went down 42-28 to the Golden Lions in the final.
Kings skipper Tiger Mangweni is confident his team can avenge their semifinal defeat tonight.
“We need to win this game and get off to a good start.
“We can turn that semifinal defeat around. The field is level and nobody has an advantage,” Mangweni said.
He will be the midfield general for the Kings against a Pumas side who will fancy their chances of upsetting a Kings outfit which will be missing their Super Rugby players.
The Kings will field an impressive back division that includes Mangweni, New Zealander Hadleigh Parkes, Siviwe “Shakes” Soyizwapi and Wayne Stevens.
If the Kings can provide quality possession, half the battle will be won against a well-balanced Pumas outfit.
Because the Super Rugby and Currie Cup seasons overlap, the Kings will be without their top players for their opening matches against the Pumas, Griffons (July 6, Welkom), Leopards (July 12, NMB), South Western Districts Eagles (July 19, George), Boland (July 26, NMB) and Falcons (August 3, Kempton Park).
Kings director of rugby Alan Solomons said this was a unique situation as never before had Super Rugby and Currie Cup schedules overlapped to this extent.
“We are confident we will be able to put in a good showing in the Currie Cup, despite these challenges,” Solomons said.
He said a number of young, talented players had put their hands up during the Vodacom Cup, and while the competition at Currie Cup level was much more intense, they showed potential.
Solomons said the coaching staff realised they would need to tackle the Currie Cup competition head-on from the start if they were to make a run at playing for the coveted Premier Division spot at the end of the season.
“I know that coaches David Maidza and Robbi Kempson are up for the challenge,” he said.
EP Kings acting chief executive and general manager Charl Crous said the union would continue with its stance of making top-flight rugby in the province accessible to the public. “We have decided to charge just R30 per ticket for our Currie Cup games, with children under 13 paying just R15,” he said.