It will be blood, sweat and tears on the training field for the Southern Kings over the next seven weeks as they gear up for Super Rugby in their first block of intense pre-season training.
The team will have a break over the festive season from December 22 to January 9 before they regroup for a series of warm-up matches against Border, the Stormers and the SWD Eagles.
So far, the Kings have signed up 40 players and they also have five players who have joined up for trials.
Kings head coach Deon Davids said a massive emphasis would be placed on ensuring his squad were in peak condition for their opener against Argentina’s Jaguares on February 25.
“One thing is for sure, we need to be a very, very fit side for Super Rugby,” Davids said when asked about the challenges facing him in his second season in charge of the East Cape franchise.
Last season, the Kings only started their pre-season training in January after a cash crisis at EP Rugby severely disrupted team preparations.
The team were hard at work on the training field at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium under the watchful eye of Davids and his assistant coaches Barend Pieterse (forwards), Dave Williams (attack and skills) and Vuyo Zangqa (backline and kicking).
This season, thanks to SA Rugby providing a budget, the Kings have been able to start their pre-season at the same time as their rivals.
“If your fundamental skills and your fitness are on par, then things happen for you,” Davids said.
“If I look back to last year we had good systems, but we could only play for 60 minutes because we did not have the engine to go longer.
If we can get that mix right, we can enjoy ourselves next year.”
Statistics show the ball is alive in some games for more than 40 minutes nowadays – as opposed to an average of 32 minutes about five years ago – so the aerobic demands on players have increased.
When the players return in January they will head off to a training camp in East London before playing three friendlies.
The dates and kick-off times for the warm-up matches have not been finalised.
The 40 players signed for Super Rugby are:
Alshaun Bock, Rudi “Poerie” van Rooyen, Mzwanele Zito, Tango Balekile, Chris Cloete, Andisa Ntsila, Stefan Willemse, Christiaan de Bruin, Johan Steyn, Lionel Cronje, Ntabeni Dukisa, Luzuko Vulindlu, Schalk van der Merwe, Wandile Mjekevu, Neil Maritz, Irné Herbst, Chris Heiberg, Wandile Putuma, Garrick Mattheus, Yaw Penxe, Sintu Manjezi, Ruaan Lerm, Chrysander Botha, Cameron Lindsay, Johann Tromp, Sampie Mastriet, Waylon Murray, Berton Klaasen, Pieter-Steyn de Wet, Ricky Schroeder, Schalk Ferreira, Justin Forwood, Mike Willemse, Martin Bezuidenhout, Thembelani Bholi, James Hall, Malcolm Jaer, Tyler Paul, CJ Velleman, Siyanda Grey.
In addition, Lusanda Badiyana, David Murray, Coyi Banda, Makazole Mapimpi and Onke Dubase are on trial.