IT will be a gruelling test of endurance and stamina for the EP Kings when they return to the Currie Cup Premier Division next month after a 12-year absence.
From August 8 to October 11 the Kings will play 10 matches in 10 weeks against South Africa’s strongest teams as they bid to make the Currie Cup play-offs at the end of October.
The Kings kick off against Western Province at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on August 8 before travelling to play the Lions in Johannesburg on August 16 and then the Bulls at Loftus on August 23.
Their final league match is against the Pumas in Port Elizabeth on October 11, and that could be the match that decides whether they gain a semifinal berth.
Kings rugby boss Cheeky Watson has said he wants his team to reach this year’s Currie Cup Premier Division final in their comeback season.
The man who masterminded the revival of Eastern Province rugby over the past few years is also hoping the final will be played at a sold-out Bay stadium.
Watson bases his unbridled optimism on his assessment that the current squad is 30 to 40% better than the Kings squad that waged war in Super Rugby last year.
“My requirement of the team is that they clinch a home Currie Cup final. But that can only be achieved if stands are full and the team are well supported,” he said.
Kings coach Carlos Spencer has promised his team will be one of the fittest in the competition and they will have to draw deep on their resources in what will be a huge physical test.
The last piece of Kings’ fixture list fell into place after Griquas qualified to play in the Premier Division at the weekend.
Griquas secured their place thanks to a comprehensive 57-12 win over the SWD Eagles at Outeniqua Park in George.
They will now visit the Bay stadium on October 4 to play the Kings in what could be a key match in the final weeks of the competition.
With so many matches being played in a short period of time, the Kings will be hoping to stay injury free.
Fortunately, the Kings have top-class cover in most positions and the strength of the replacements could be key if the Kings are faced by unwanted injuries.
Spencer will have been delighted that three of his most senior players returned to full training this week.
Prop CJ van der Linde, lock Steven Sykes and centre Ronnie Cooke were all on the field and are now likely to come into contention to play against the Cheetahs in a warm-up game in Cradock on August 1.
One absentee was skipper Luke Watson, who did not take part in training on Monday as a precaution after suffering a rib injury against the Sharks in a friendly. He is, however, expected to resume training later this week.
Another player unable to take part in contact training sessions this week was Darron Nell, who injured his chest in a warm-up match against SWD Eagles in George two weeks ago.
The Kings had a good workout and some of the soccer fever in the Bay after the Chippa United versus Kaizer Chiefs match at the stadium rubbed off on the rugby players.
Before they got their hands on the oval ball, the players had a game of soccer which the backline players appeared to enjoy more than the forwards. – George Byron