Currie Cup a tough challenge

KEY MAN: Speedster Ronnie Cooke (with ball) will start on the wing when the EP Kings clash with Western Province on Friday in their opening Currie Cup Premier Division game. Picture: MIKE HOLMES
KEY MAN: Speedster Ronnie Cooke (with ball) will start on the wing when the EP Kings clash with Western Province on Friday in their opening Currie Cup Premier Division game. Picture: MIKE HOLMES

EP KINGS skipper Luke Watson says consistency will be the core aim of his team during their gruelling Currie Cup Premier Division campaign which kicks off against Western Province at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Friday.

Watson was speaking when the Kings named their team for what promises to be a tough opener after a 12-year absence from the top flight of South African rugby.

“We must be consistent throughout the competition and not allow one or two negative results to compromise the entire campaign,” Watson said.

“Our head coach Carlos Spencer has been good this week because it cannot become too much of an emotional thing. This is not a friendly against the Sharks and then a five-month break.

“You play Western Province, and then the Lions and then another big team and another one. So we have to create an environment where the guys are emotionally stable and mature and producing consistent performances,” EP’s skipper said.

Several changes were made to the side that lost 28-12 to the Cheetahs last week. The new partnership of flyhalf Gary van Aswegen and scrumhalf Tobie Botes gets a chance to prove itself at the top level.

Spencer said the decision on who would play scrumhalf had been one of the biggest hassles when he sat down to select the side. Apart from Botes the contenders were Kevin Luiters, who starts on the bench, and the energetic Jaco Grobler.

“I had headaches over a couple of positions and No9 was one of them. I had three guys capable of starting on Friday and one had to miss out. I had a word with Jaco and told him he was very unlucky because I have been very impressed with his attitude and what he has done for us in the past five months. I told him to remain confident.”

Experienced Ronnie Cooke, who has been used mainly at centre during his time at the Kings, will start at right wing after Samoan Paul Perez was sidelined after a knee injury.

With Cooke adding extra pace on the flank, the centre pairing on Friday will be Shane Gates and Tim Whitehead, who have both impressed in the warm-ups.

Spencer is confident that prop Lizo Gqoboka, who took a knock to the head against the Cheetahs, will be fit to play down alongside hooker Edgar Marutlulle and Tom Botha in the front row.

“Lizo trained today, but had no contact. I am confident he will be fine for Friday. I will make the final call tomorrow,” the coach said.

With Watson packing down at No8, his flanks will be the impressive Thembelani Bholi and the talented Stefan Willemse, who has shone this season.

Flank Devin Oosthuizen (knee injury) is another who was not in contention and he trained at the side of the field this week. He is undergoing rehabilitation for his injury and is expected to return to full training shortly.

Spencer said while it was a definite shift in gears for the Currie Cup, the focus was on the game ahead against Western Province and keeping things relaxed among the players ahead of it.

“We really want to keep the players as calm and relaxed as possible and they must enjoy the week ahead of the game,” he said.

Kings team: Lizo Gqoboka/BG Uys, Edgar Marutlulle, Tom Botha, Steven Cummins, David Bulbring, Thembelani Bholi, Stefan Willemse, Luke Watson (capt), Tobie Botes, Gary van Aswegen, Siviwe Soyizwapi, Shane Gates, Tim Whitehead, Ronnie Cooke, Scott van Breda. Replacements: Albe de Swardt, CJ van der Linde, Darron Nell, Aidon Davis, Kevin Luiters, George Whitehead, Ntabeni Dukisa. – George Byron

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