With their Super Rugby future hanging in the balance, former Springbok centre Waylon Murray has recalled the last time the Southern Kings exited the competition. This time, the circumstances will be totally different from what transpired in 2013 on a dramatic day in front of 50 000 fans at Ellis Park.
Back then the players had control of their destiny out on the field, but this time the fate of the Kings is in the hands of officials sitting around a boardroom table.
Months of indecision came to an end this week when Saru announced that a special general meeting would be held in Cape Town on July 7 which would confirm the four South African entrants to a revised Super Rugby competition from 2018.
Four years ago the Lions beat the Kings 26-19 in Port Elizabeth before the Kings triumphed 23-18 in Johannesburg in the second leg of the promotion games.
Sadly for the Kings fans, the win in Johannesburg was not enough to save them from getting the chop.
“That was an incredibly sad day, with the bond we all shared with the team,” Murray said.
“Nobody wants to be in that situation where it is knockout rugby, specially with the hopes of having a franchise to play Super Rugby.
“As a team we took it very hard because as team we knew how important it was for the people back in Port Elizabeth.
“For me, it was sad but it was also monumental from the point of view that we achieved a lot for a team that was put together just before going into their first Super Rugby season. There were some sad moments in that season, but there were also a lot of positives.”
Murray said it was difficult to compare the team of 2013 with the current side.
“A lot of character traits are similar, but obviously the game plan has changed and rugby has evolved since then.
“It was a team with a lot of character in 2013 and a lot was stacked against them. It is similar here and it is a resilient team and it is a side that comes in week in and week out believing in themselves.
“It is hard to distinguish between the two because they share a lot of common threads. I was part of both teams and enjoyed them both.
“There is a lot of talent here in this current team. The foundations of the people here in PE and the support of the people have been good and the fans have always been positive towards us.
“That translates onto the field and hopefully we play good rugby and make the people proud.”
Born in Durban, Murray went to Westville Boys’ High School, where he was a prefect and head of school in 2003 and played in the first XV in 2003.
During his debut season in the 2006 Currie Cup and Super 14 season for the Sharks, Murray showed great promise as a quality centre for his provincial team.
Murray’s good form saw him selected for the Springboks’ away leg of the 2007 Tri Nations as the first-choice centres were being rested for the World Cup.
However, he narrowly missed selection to the victorious South Africa squad for the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
In 2010, the Sharks agreed to release Murray from his contract so he could join the Lions.
At the end of 2012, his Lions contract expired and he joined the EP Kings, also being named in the Kings wider training group for the 2013 Super Rugby season. However, having recently undergone knee surgery, he was struggling for full fitness for a large part of the campaign and made just four starts and three substitute appearances during the Super Rugby season. Significantly, Murray played in the second leg of the Kings’ promotion playoff series against the Lions at Ellis Park.
After the 2013 Super Rugby season, Murray joined the Blue Bulls, signing a contract with the team until October 2015.
He failed to break into their Super Rugby squad, however, being limited to six appearances in the 2013 Currie Cup Premier Division and eight in the 2014 Vodacom Cup.
Murray says Super Rugby has become much quicker over the years. “Apart from being quicker, there is more ball-in-hand play and more offloads. Your decision making has to be accurate, or you get punished at this level.
“It is natural for the game to evolve and it changes from year to year with different trends. But this year there has been a lot more attacking rugby.”
The hard-running centre praised the work being done by the Kings’ backline coaches, David Williams and Vuyo Zangqa.
“This year Vuyo and David have been hugely influential with the way they think and the intellect that they bring to the game,” Murray said.
“That makes it a lot easier for us to execute and make the right decisions on the field.
“They have obviously played a huge part and we just learn from them where we can and hopefully execute their game plan.
“They are very intelligent people and we are always learning and growing from them.” Murray prides himself on his attack and defence. “I enjoy the physical stuff. You get seasons where it works out and you are more accurate than in others. You get huge confidence from the guys smashing guys back in the tackle.
“It is a team effort and everything kind of works hand in hand.
“All teams set defence as their foundation, but it does not always go to plan when you are on the field and sometimes there are soft tries and soft moments.
“For the most part we have banded together and it has shown that we care for one another and trust each other. We back each other up on the field in attack and defence.”
Murray says at the age of 31 he did not have any long-term goals for himself.
“At my age I don’t like to look far ahead and I take it season by season. For now the body is healthy and I still have that hunger. I want to continue helping the team win games.”
Murray is contracted with the Kings until the end of the Super Rugby season.