EXPERIENCED Luke Watson has recovered from a rib injury and will return to captain the EP Kings when they play their final Currie Cup warm-up match against the Cheetahs in Cradock on Friday.
Watson, who missed the last warm-up game against the SWD Eagles in George, will pack down at No 8 in the Kings’ final preparation match before they face Western Province in their opening Currie Cup clash on August 8.
The former Springbok’s experience of playing at the top level will be vital for the Kings as they return to the Premier Division after a 12- year absence.
The Kings have named a 26-man squad for the trip to Cradock and they look set to start with one team and end with another in their final dress-rehearsal.
With Watson at No 8, the flanks packing down at the side of the scrum are the fiery Thembelani Bholi and the explosive Shaun McDonald who have both impressed in earlier warm-ups.
After a spell of conditioning, former Stade Francaise hooker Michael van Vuuren gets his first start for the Kings and he will be eager to make a big impression.
Van Vuuren made his debut when he came on from the bench against a Sharks 15 in a warm-up at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. With Van Vuuren starting, Edgar Marutlulle moves to the bench
“Mike has worked hard and he deserves another chance,” Kings head coach Carlos Spencer said.
“He has that opportunity on Friday so he has to prove that he wants it. Mike has to make the most of his opportunities because hooker is one of those spots that is giving us a bit of a headache at the moment.
“Whether he gets 40, 50 or 60 minutes Mike has got to show us that he wants it more than the other hookers,” Spencer said.
In comparison to the SWD Eagles game, Spencer has named eight new players in the starting line up and four more have received a starting position after being called up from the bench.
Lizo Gqoboka is the only player to retain his spot in the team – at loosehead prop.
Tobie Botes returns at scrumhalf in place of Jaco Grobler, who is benched, with George Whitehead rotating with Gary van Aswegen at flyhalf.
Siviwe “Shakes” Soyizwapi returns to the squad at left wing, while Baby Bok Sergeal Petersen moves across to right wing.
Spencer said Samoan Paul Perez was the only player who was not available for selection because he had injured his knee during practice on Friday.
“We don’t know the extent of the injury as yet, as he has only gone for scans today, but we remain positive and hopefully he will come through the scan okay and it’s just a niggle,” Spencer said.
Spencer said Siyanda Grey had also not been available for selection, as he had requested leave to attend a family funeral.
The game will take place at the Cradock Sports Stadium and will kick off at 3pm. Tickets will be available at the gate.
The Kings team: Lizo Gqoboka, Michael van Vuuren, Tom Botha, Steven Sykes, David Bulbring, Thembelani Bholi, Shaun McDonald, Luke Watson (capt), Tobie Botes, George Whitehead, Siviwe Soyizwapi, Shane Gates, Ronnie Cooke, Sergeal Petersen, Scott van Breda. Replacements: Edgar Marutlulle, CJ van der Linde, Charl du Plessis, Paul Schoeman, Stefan Willemse, Steven Cummins, Kevin Luiters, Jaco Grobler, Gary van Aswegen, Tim Whitehead, Ntabeni Dukisa – George Byron