LUKE Watson will start from the bench when the EP Kings clash with the Bulls in what is expected to be a fiercely contested pre-season warmup at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Friday (kickoff 7pm).
Despite some injury problems to consider, new head coach Brent Janse van Rensburg has assembled a strong outfit for what promises to be a good early-season test.
Explaining why Watson would start from the bench, Janse van Rensburg said: “Luke had a slight tear in his quad, which we are obviously managing. It is important for us that when Luke gets back to playing, he plays consistently and that he is part of the mix throughout the season.
“We don’t want to compromise Luke by forcing and rushing him back quickly and making him start the game this week.
“We will be phasing him back in and he is training really well at the moment and participating in the sessions. He is in good shape. So it is literally due to our phasing him in and managing his load.
“But he will get a start quite soon and all things going well now he is tracking well for the Currie Cup.”
After Friday’s friendly, the Kings have another warm-up game against Western Province on July 25 before they kick off their Currie Cup campaign against the Lions on August 8.
“Everyone will get a chance to play and because it is the first game we won’t play players for more than 50 minutes, for instance.
“It is a first game and they have just come off pre-season. We want to use the game as preparation. We will then pull guys off the field without a full game under the belt and this allows us to manage the load.”
With Watson on the bench, centre Tim Whitehead will captain the side.
Janse van Rensburg said they would be looking at a process of rotation as they eased the squad back into matchpractice mode. He has named a squad of 26, with 11 players on the replacements list earmarked to get some game time.
“We will use the next two games to give all the players an opportunity for some match time, without compromising the rhythm and continuity we will be trying to build up,” Janse van Rensburg said. “For various reasons, several guys are not playing this week but we will look to bring them in for the game against Western Province, while keeping a core of players for both.”
Experienced forwards Schalk Ferreira, Jacques Engelbrecht and Steven Sykes are all in the starting lineup. The EP Kings team: Schalk Ferreira, Michael van Vuuren, Basil Short, Stefan Willemse, Steven Sykes (vice-captain), Thembelani Bholi, Jacques Engelbrecht, Tim Agaba, Kevin Luiters, George Whitehead, Luther Obi, Tim Whitehead (captain), Ronnie Cooke, Siviwe Soyizwapi, Scott van Breda. Replacements: Albe de Swardt, Tom Botha, Cameron Lindsay, Luke Watson, Enrico Acker, Karlo Aspeling, Tythan Adams, Lizo Gqoboka, Tazz Fuzani, JP du Plessis, Marlou van Niekerk.