Dynamic loose forward Chris Cloete, who terrorised opponents last season until he was floored by a serious knee injury, is returning to play Super Rugby for the Southern Kings.
Cloete was one of the stars in a struggling Kings team last year and his decision to return on loan from the Pumas is a major shot in the arm for the Port Elizabeth franchise.
The robust flank was one of seven new names who will be lining up for what will be a rigorous build-up to the new campaign.
The other signings are Andisa Ntsila, Stefan Willemse, Christiaan de Bruin, Johan Steyn, Lionel Cronje and Ntabeni Dukisa.
In addition, Coyi Banda, Makazole Mapimpi, Luzuko Vulindlu and Onke Dubase will be coming to the Kings for trials.
Coach Deon Davids said Louis Fouche, who had been expected to play for the Kings, would not return.
With loose forward CJ Velleman expected to make his comeback from injury in March, the Kings will certainly have power in the loose forward department.
Last year, the Kings were dealt a heavy blow when Cloete and Velleman were sidelined by serious injuries.
“I am pleased to say that Cloete will be ready to start our first game against the Argentine Jaguares,” Davids said.
“In addition, we expect to have CJ back towards the end of February or March. We have Chris on loan from the Pumas.
“Chris is an amazing player and he did not want to leave Port Elizabeth after Super Rugby.
“It will be fantastic to have him back at the Kings,” Davids said.
Though the Kings found the going tough in Super Rugby last season, Cloete caught the eye along with Velleman.
Speaking last season, Cloete said: “When you have someone like CJ Velleman in the side you cannot afford to have a bad game because he is always on your heels.
“I am doing my best in every game, pushing the limits and hopefully it stays that way.
“CJ is probably one of the best No 6s in the competition.
“Having him and myself on the field, we can slow down opposition rucks, as well as the tempo of teams.”
This year, fans will be hoping the pair can again combine to give their team vital momentum.
The coach said he was pleased that the Kings would be able to enjoy a full programme of pre-season training.
“The next three days are basically going to be testing and going through all the players,” Davids said.
“We will start with our conditioning, base training, assessment and skills training next week.
“It is 100 times better than last year. Not everyone is here yet, but it is already a better start.
“We will do our best to get the guys ready for the competition and we are confident we can do better.”
Last year, the Kings began their preseason training only in January after EP Rugby’s cash crisis.
“I am going to give myself time in the build-up to see how each player develops and what the group brings to us.
“We will then decide how we will approach the season.”
Earlier this week, the Kings announced that burly prop Schalk “Hond” van der Merwe, who will be packing down for the Barbarians against the Springboks at Wembley on Saturday, had been signed
It is Van der Merwe’s 25 Super Rugby caps for the Lions in 2014 and last year that will make him such a valuable signing for the Southern Kings.
“Every team needs experience in the front row and it is great to have a player with such pedigree join us in Port Elizabeth,” Davids said.
He also confirmed that two outside backs from the Sharks, former Junior Springbok Wandile Mjekevu and Neil Maritz, would be available for the Southern Kings next year.