Coach Mzwandile Stick feels team can rise to challenge in Vodacom Cup
WHEN the EP Kings heard they had drawn the Kenyan Tusker Simba XV at home in their first match of the Vodacom Cup they must have viewed it as a golden opportunity to get their campaign off to a winning start.
The Kings, with a new policy of fielding stronger teams in the Vodacom Cup, would have been confident making home ground advantage count at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on March 21.
EP fans, hungry for success, were already licking their lips in anticipation of an emphatic bonus point win to kick start their team’s campaign.
Circumstances, however, conspired to change their opening day opponents from a modest Kenyan outfit to defending champions Griquas after the Simba XV had to pull out of the competition because of financial constraints.
Faced with a potential crisis, SA Rugby bosses decided to move Griquas from the North to the South section to take the place of the cash-strapped Kenyans.
So this will no longer be a gentle opener, but a real test for the Kings as they prepare for Currie Cup Premier Division rugby later this year and their re-entry into Super Rugby in 2016.
The Kings are desperate to atone for a miserable season last year when they managed to win only three of their seven Vodacom Cup matches and Griquas will fully test their early season aspirations.
It must be said one of those defeats was against the Kenyans, but the Kings were in the middle of a failed experiment of using club players in the Vodacom Cup which backfired badly.
Griquas will be extra fired up for their visit to Port Elizabeth because it is no secret that the Kimberley-based side feel the Kings have received preferential treatment regarding their promotion to the Currie Cup Premier Division .
Last year Griquas clinched the Vodacom Cup for the fifth time when they beat the Golden Lions by 30-6 in the final at GWK Park in Kimberley.
It was Griquas’ first Vodacom Cup title since 2009 and also avenged their home defeat in the in the final seconds of the 2012 final against Western Province.
Griquas won their other Vodacom Cup titles in 1998, when they also beat the Golden Lions in the final, as well as 2005 and 2007.
In preparation for the opener against Griquas, the Kings have lined up two home pre-season friendlies against the Cheetahs on March 6 and the Golden Lions on March 14.
With Griquas taking the place of the Kenyans, EP’s remaining home games in the Vodacom Cup are against Western Province (April 11), SWD (April 25) and the Sharks (May 8) at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. Away games include Border (March 28), Free State (April 18) and Boland (May 2).
“It’s a pity Kenya decided to withdraw, but we respect their decision,” SA Rugby chief executive Jurie Roux said.
“The format of the Vodacom Cup is unchanged from last year and I’m sure it will yet again deliver hard-fought and exciting rugby,” Roux said.
“We’re excited to see which rising stars will come through the competition this year. In 2014, Oupa Mohoje played in the Vodacom Cup three months before
The EP Kings have announced a 38-man squad as they prepare for the arrival of Griquas.
New additions among the squad are Cornell Hess and Dylan Frylinck, who have both secured contracts for the Vodacom Cup season following trials earlier this month, as well as Vukile Sofisa and Sphu Msuthwana who move up from last year’s under-21 squad and CJ Velleman, who captained the U19 squad last year.
Also named in the squad are new signings Tazz Fuzani, Jan Uys, Eital Bredenkamp and Tony Jantjies.
Kings’ Vodacom Cup head coach Mzwandile Stick said he was happy with the condition of the players, saying they had worked hard during the off season and in pre-season training.
“We have a great group of players, with a good combination of both senior and young talent,” he said.
Stick said the focus was now on introducing more rugby specific elements to the training sessions, and developing the game plan for the campaign.
“We will also be working hard to maintain the fitness of the players and getting their skills level up ahead of the competition,” he said.
Stick said he was confident ahead of the Vodacom Cup, but would be taking the competition one game at a time.
“We have the best possible players to select from, including all those who played Currie Cup Premier Division last year, so we are very confident going into this competition. We want to win it.”
The Kings Vodacom Cup squad is: Forwards: Charles Marais, Vukile Sofisa, Lizo Gqoboka, Michael van Vuuren, Martin Ferreira, Edgar Marutlulle, Simon Kerrod, Tom Botha, CJ van der Linde, David Bulbring, Cornell Hess, Cameron Lindsay, Tazz Fuzani, Jan Uys, Shaun McDonald, Eital Bredenkamp, CJ Velleman, Thembelani Bholi, Paul Schoeman, Stefan Willemse, Tim Agaba, Aidon Davis, Luke Watson. Backs: Kevin Luiters, Dylan Frylinck, Jaco Grobler, Gary van Aswegen, Tony Jantjies, George Whitehead, Siyanda Grey, Marlou van Niekerk, Sphu Msuthwana, Shane Gates, Tim Whitehead, Ronnie Cooke, Siviwe Soyizwapi, Scott van Breda, Hansie Graaff, Luther Obi and Sylvian Mahuza.